How to Start A Book Club; or Assembling Your Own Regiment

About a year ago, I had a “so crazy it just might work!” idea: I would start a book club.

I know, that sounds insane.  Bear with me.  Because being part of a book club is one of the most fun and most rewarding things I’ve done in the past year. Or ever.

Today, July 2, the Monstrous Regiment celebrates its first birthday! What started as a whim to read books by women authors has expanded to embrace all genres, all writing styles, all foods, and most recently, all of a book by a man (we admit that was controversial.) A year ago,  a group of people came together to read books and eat food and we haven’t looked back. If you want to start reading with awesome people, here are a couple suggestions.

1. Find Your Peeps

So–you want to start a book club. In the 21st century, how do you find awesome, like-minded people who also want to read books and talk about them? Facebook, of course. I started by creating a private Facebook group called “Hypothetical New Louisville Book Club” and invited everyone I knew in a two-hour radius who I thought might like to read. Those people then invited more people, and we started a discussion about what this “Hypothetical New Louisville Book Blub” might be. We discussed how often we should meet (monthly), where we should meet (local restaurants), what our name should be (we took a poll–The Feminine Mystiques and Women of Letters were also in the running) and how discussion captains would be chosen (at random unless there was a volunteer). It was immediately important that everyone who wanted to have a voice in what the book club would become–since then, any changes (can we meet on weekdays rather than only weekends?) have also been decided with energetic and empathetic discussion. One year later, The Monstrous Regiment continues to be made up of remarkable and good-humored people who just want to come together to talk about books.

2. Find Your Books

You’ve got your people–now what will you read?!?!? This is indubitably the hardest part of starting a book club. It was suggested at the outset that our group focus on books by female authors, and this was adopted instantaneously. We could just have easily decided to only read books by Kentucky authors or books by authors whose last names started with P or books without “The” in the title or books about mermaids. We could also have decided that each discussion leader picks whatever book they want to read, without a unifying theme. I suggested the “books by women” hook because I wanted to read more books by women, and I thought it would help narrow the focus of the zillions of books out there. Choosing a book for a group discussion is daunting, y’all. For our first read, I dithered for days, making lists and consulting oracles and booksellers alike, until a fellow Regimental gave me this advice: just pick a book you want to read. So, I picked The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George because 1. Nina George was a woman and 2. I’d owned the book for six months. It was time to read it. Since then, The Regiment’s discussion captains have picked books they’ve read before, brand-new bestsellers,  or books they judged by title or author alone. The book itself is not the most important part–it’s the people you bring together to talk, and if you’re picking a book, you’ve probably already found your people. Sure, a really good book will likely have a really great discussion, but I’ve found that book people can talk about anything with vigor for long enough to finish a meal. Just pick a book that fits the mood of your group and tell everyone! It’ll be great.

3. Find Your Place

Setting out, I didn’t want The Monstrous Regiment to have a ton of requirements that might deter people from joining the fun. I wanted people to feel free to come to a discussion if they hadn’t finished the book (or even started the book) and I didn’t want people to be stressed out about leading a discussion. Choosing a book was stressful enough!  So, we started by holding our discussions in local restaurants, so people wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning their houses and making food. This turned out to be a boon because it expanded the scope of our group–we started picking restaurants that fit the style or theme of the book and that made it so much more fun. Our first meeting took place outside at a French cafe so we could eat yummy pastries while talking about a grumpy Frenchman who sells books from a barge. Since then, we’ve really gotten into matching our food to our books–so much so that we started a whole blog. This works for us, but maybe meeting in a library or a bookstore works for your group. Maybe meeting at the same house every time, or a local park is more your style. The atmosphere we wanted for our club was discussed in our Facebook group, as well as time of day. Having a chill book club that is welcoming above all things has continued to appeal to us as a group.We started out on the first Saturday of every month at lunch, but this has quickly devolved into “When can everyone meet this month? The third Wednesday at 7:30pm? Super, see you there!” It’s more important to us to have our fellow Regimentals with us than to stick to a very specific schedule. Facebook continues to be helpful with this, as we can set up polls and events to keep everyone on the same page.

4. Find Your Voice

Our discussion style is fast and loose–sometimes the discussion captain has questions or discussion topics they introduce at the beginning and sometimes the group just starts talking and we can’t shut up. For us, we’ve found that starting with one or two questions is usually a good icebreaker, and that having a few more ideas we want to talk about is helpful when we fall into a conversational lull. Each discussion captain decides how they want to format discussion and we look to them as our wise and trusted guides to bring us back to the book when we inevitably fall down an irrelevant rabbit hole. What works for some books also doesn’t work with others, so flexibility in discussion format is key to having a really engaging discussion. Absent members also sometimes send in their thoughts and feelings on our selection to be read aloud during our meetings. The discussion really does depend on the book–sometimes we discuss our book for two hours and sometimes twenty minutes. The important thing is that we all read a book and came together to talk about it. The friendship is the best part.

Remember Step #1? You did it. You started a book club. Congratulations! Now go have some fun.

To all of you who have been a part of The Monstrous Regiment (all 99 members of that Facebook group!), thank you. Let’s keep reading!

Throwback Thursday: First Novels

Most members of our group didn’t just suddenly dive heavily into reading. Many of us have been bookworms all of our lives. Let’s Ask the Regiment about their first reads! In this post we each take a look back at the first book we remember reading, and how it influenced our current literary choices today.

Hannah S: The first non-picture book I really remember reading is Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. I remember reading it with my Grandma, reading it with my parents, reading it to my siblings. I absolutely loved it. It’s not really a novel though. The first novel I have vivid memories of connecting with is The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. That world was so vivid to me. I still can’t see a wardrobe or rack full of fur coats at an antique store without wanting to climb through them and see where I end up. It’s practically a physical memory, rather than an intellectual one–the soft fur and hardwood giving way to scratchy pine needles and crunching snow as you enter Narnia.

Allyson: I’ve never been one to gravitate toward books, so when I was assigned to read The Outsiders in my 9th grade English class, I was less than thrilled. As I began reading this novel in class, I was instantly hooked. I don’t know if it was my obsession with mid-twentieth century pop culture or the social struggle that Ponyboy and his friends dealt with, but this was one of the first books that I truly ate up. When I learned that S. E. Hinton was a woman, I was in awe and felt empowered. A few years later I was cast in a stage adaptation of the book, and it will forever be one of my favorite novels. It reminds me that no matter what life throws your way, to stay gold.

Amelia: The first chapter book I can clearly remember reading is The Little House in the Big Woods, although honestly, most of the reading was done by my mother.  But I loved that book!  As the middle child in my own family of five, I felt like Laura was my fictional counterpart, someone who could easily be my friend.  At the same time, her world was totally foreign to me! I loved the descriptions of her daily routines and remember being very sad when I couldn’t have my own “sugaring off.”  Maybe that’s when I first fell in love with history, even the romanticized versions of it.  Little House still holds a special place in my heart.

Erin: When I was in kindergarten I used to read the Nancy Drew series with my mom. Sometimes she would read and sometimes she’d make me read out loud for practice, which I’m sure was a little tedious. I loved that Nancy and her gal pals were so good at solving mysteries. I even named several Barbies after Nancy, Georgie, and Bess. And the best part was that there seemed to be a limitless supply of books, at least in the mind of a little kid.

Hannah Z.: When I was growing up, my family listened to lots of audiobooks. My very favorite was The Mouse and The Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. Seeing the world from a mouse’s-eye-view fascinated me and I could see everything about the story, from the pattern on the Mountain View Inn’s carpet to the chrome handlebars on the toy motorcycle. This listening-and-reading experience opened up my whole world as I was first learning how to read, and helped introduce me to that intrepid third-grader, Ramona Quimby, whose adventures still serve as my own model for life.

Tim: I have a very poor memory, so while there were probably many before this,  the first novel I remember really getting into was Redwall by Brian Jacques. As a child (well, to be fair, still as an adult) I loved the main characters being animals rather than people. It was also my entry into fantasy epics, which remains one of my favorite genres today.

So there you have it–a few favorite early reads from The Regiment! What first book experiences do you still savor? What is the first book you remember reading?