Adventures in Reading

How to Run a Great Book Club

Bookstore1 event manager and book club leader Elsie Souza’s tried-and-true tips.

By Megan McDonald May 30, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Book club expert Elsie Souza.

Image: Evan Sigmund

Know your guests and make sure they’re comfortable. “A book club cannot be intimidating,” Souza says. “People want a gathering place.” If people come back to your gatherings time and time again, you’ve succeeded. A good facilitator can read the group dynamic and recognize when to push members to try something new——or when to rein in a topic or discussion.

Plan ahead. Souza recommends planning the date of every monthly meeting——and every book pick and venue——in advance. Then make sure you stick to it. As far as a time frame, “an hour to an hour and 15 minutes is good,” she says.

Consider a theme. Bookstore1 offers several themed book clubs. Souza runs one on book translations and one on mysteries. “We had one person who was so inspired that he wrote his own mystery book,” she says. “Now he’s at work on his second one.”

Offer food and drink. Refreshments help break the ice. “Wine and cheese are good,” Souza says, “but what’s even better is if you can pick out food from the story.”

Discuss the book (yes, really). A book club can become a gabfest, “so make sure people know that you’re going to discuss the book,” Souza advises. Some book clubs give out discussion questions; if that’s too structured for you, start with a question about the book right away, making sure everyone gets a chance to weigh in. “I make sure everyone around the table has a chance to interact and discuss the book,” she says.

Think about paperbacks. People often want to read what’s new, “but I’ve found paperbacks are the way to go, especially considering the price of hardcovers these days,” Souza says. For her own book clubs, she often chooses a just-released paperback.

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