Book Club Etiquette

Book clubs are a productive and sometimes educational way to bond with friends and help each other explore new ideas and concepts. Gather your friends together and try a weekly or monthly book club. By showing respect for each other, the club, and the book, you are sure to create a tradition that will last for many years.

Following a few simple ground rules will help you and your reading friends get the most out of the group. Use these book club etiquette tips to keep things fun, friendly, fair and interesting!

  • Take turns. Be careful not to let one or two people do all the talking. It’s not uncommon in any group for stronger personalities to dominate the conversation while quieter people have little chance of getting a word in edgewise. Since the point of a book club is a group discussion, keep a few tricks up your sleeve if you have some particularly chatty members who tend to hold the floor. For example, structure the conversation by going around the table to let each member have a chance to talk about one aspect of the book that was most significant to them and lead a mini-discussion on their topic of choice. Or ask a quieter member for their opinion to get a good conversation going.
  • Remember to talk about the book. All of you committed to spending a considerable amount of time reading the book. With that in mind, remember to actually get around to talking about it. Don’t let the evening slip away with only chatting about the kids, the latest reality TV show or gossip. If your book club gatherings usually devote 10 percent of time to discussing the book and 90 percent talking about everything else, warn prospective members before they study up on the latest read.
  • Ask the group before inviting new members to the club. This is a common courtesy to others in the group and the key to keeping it manageable. If everyone in the book club keeps inviting new members, you could quickly have a few dozen members, which makes it far more challenging to host and to have a good discussion.
  • Pick the ideal venue for a meeting. Hosting it at your home is great if that’s an option; you will have control over the food, drinks and noise level. If you choose a restaurant, wine bar or coffee shop, scope it out in advance to make sure your group can have a quiet area to yourselves long enough to discuss the book.
  • If you didn’t read the book, come prepared to ask questions about it. Some book clubs welcome all members even if they didn’t get a chance to read or finish the book. If you go, be prepared to participate in the discussion by asking questions and showing genuine interest. You can actually help facilitate the discussion. But don’t expect others to give you a complete rehash of the story. Also, resist the urge to lure others who have read the book into a non-book related conversation.
  • Be gracious in your comments. If you didn’t like the book, don’t trash it by saying “This book was terrible!” This and similar conversation-killing statements are disrespectful to others who did enjoy it and also to whomever chose the book. It’s fine to say that it wasn’t your cup of tea. Beyond that, find constructive ways to contribute to the conversation instead of making sweeping, dismissive comments.
  • Bring some questions for discussion. Some books come with their own discussion guide at the end. Also, there are several resources online to help you with this, such as ReadingGroupGuides.com.
  • Agree on how to choose the next read. Decide up front how you will choose books for the club to read. Will the host make the selection of the month? Will the group vote on the next book? Decide in advance and follow the rules.
  • Keep an open mind. Even if the next selection isn’t something you think you’re interested in, give it a chance. Part of the joy of book clubs is getting exposed to new books and new ideas that you wouldn’t have experienced before. And after all, isn’t that the point of reading in the first place?

Get lost in some great books,

Signature

Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for three popular morning talk shows, SA Living, NBC, Good Day Austin, FOX, and We Are Austin, CBS. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

Comments

  1. Catherine says

    I really enjoyed this article.

    I am currently in a Jungian group that is based on more of a manual of study rather than an actual book. This has turned into a complete disaster because no one can stick to the etiquette that you lined out here. The leader of it is weak as well and often contributes to the time-wasting chattiness. We spent two meetings discussing how the group should go after so much acrimony between and differing expectations among members.

    We had a narcissistic grand-stander who felt he knew more than anyone else and came to the second to last discussion meeting claiming, “I don’t think this group can give me anything.” He and a couple of others always dominated the conversation. As a more introverted person, I didn’t feel I could get a word in edgewise. One of the email comments from another woman basically accused those of us who were bored by the conversation going far off topic and/or could not get a word in, of “sitting back on our laurels, expecting to be fed.”

    At least three people in the group have expressed disdain for the material. It is not the best written material, but a couple of us stated that we were able to find something in it anyway. We finally voiced that we were weary of coming to group discussions where people would trash the writing, even down to one word they didn’t like or one term they didn’t understand.

    The whole thing has turned into an odd soap opera and it seems that much of it was caused by having weak leadership and no ground rules. When we finally proposed that we go around the room and let everyone have a chance to weigh in on the material, one woman said she didn’t like feeling restricted. It seems that one too many people have too many issues with one thing or another that they could just let go for the good of the group – or leave.

    A friend in the group and I seem to discuss this a lot and I am feeling like the whole dynamic has gotten under my skin to the point where I feel disgusted or even angry when I think about it. I am giving the group one or two more meetings to see if anything changes and then I am done. The manual that we use even warned that some interesting dynamics might come out of the discussions around Jungian concepts and applications. They sure have, only to a severely exaggerated degree.

    What has really floored me is that most of the people in this group are in their 50’s and 60’s and I thought by this point in their life, they would be a little more mature and self-aware. All of them are well-educated and seem to have been successful in their careers as well. It’s been interesting. I imagine the literary societies of years gone by had a lot more discipline and intention.

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