“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”
There’s something almost magical about an apartment full of women drinking hot tea and discussing beautiful literature. In the midst of discussing a plot point or character trait, we fall into deep friendship.
Unfortunately, few of us read on a regular basis, and even fewer of us gather to unpack what we’ve read. Nearly a quarter of us didn’t read a single book during 2015. The idea of reading, especially reading great literature, sounds like work, not play. So instead, we watch Gilmore Girls and gossip about work or school. While this is certainly fun, I think when we limit ourselves to these activities, we limit our friendships. As a result, our friendships are only as substantial as a the TV shows we watch – fun for a while, but ultimately a little trite.
I invite you to consider hosting and leading a book club. A book club is a great way to expand your relationships with friends, coworkers and neighbors. As your group delves into complex characters like Jane Eyre or purely delightful characters like Anne of Green Gables, you’ll find as a group that you’ve come to know each other on a much deeper level than you ever did chatting about work.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get started.
Groups between six and nine members tend to generate great discussion. It’s important that all participants feel comfortable sharing. If the group is too large, some individuals will feel uncomfortable contributing to discussion.
Don’t be afraid to invite friends who may have different points of view. My current book club includes a radical feminist, an Orthodox Jew, several Catholics, an atheist, a devoted Muslim, and several evangelical Christians of various denominations. Although we hold many opposing views, we have learned to debate these issues with the same grace and respect that we practice during our literary discussion.
When considering whom to invite, think through your weekly activities and associations and the faces connected to each one. For example, the women I invited to my current book club all have spouses at my husband’s law school.
Consider asking your neighbors. You can do this by leaving a simple invitation on their doorstep. I like to leave a chocolate kiss on top. Do you work? Could you invite your coworkers to join you?
Often community is built on current community. If you have one or two friends who you think may enjoy being part of a book club, ask them if they have any other friends who may be interested. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your book club fills up.
Choose your Book
It’s important to choose a book that everyone will enjoy and be challenged by. Mindless reading usually makes for mindless discussion, but of course, not always. A fluff book or two probably won’t hurt you!
Here are a few book suggestions that are sure to get your friends talking:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
Before your first gathering, brainstorm five to seven open-ended discussion questions. My current book club is reading Jane Eyre. Here are a few questions we used in our first meeting.
1. How would we compare the characters of Jane and Helen?
2. How does Jane respond to trial?
3. What do you think the following quote says about the human spirit? “It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action, and they will make it if they can’t find it.”
4. Mr. Rochester says remorse is the poison of life. Do you think this statement is true? Why?
5. What is it about the character of Jane that makes her a unique female protagonist? What lessons can we as women learn from her?
As your book group gets to know each other, prepared questions will be less important. But at the beginning, it is helpful to have a few ready in advance.
If you are struggling to write your own questions, you can turn to your friend Google. There are a host of free resources online that will make preparing for book club a snap. When I prepared for the first evening of Jane Eyre, I used Glencoe, Penguin, and Sparknotes to help me out.
You’ve invited your guests, selected a book, and prepared for discussion. Now it’s the fun part – you get to host. Hosting can sound daunting and intimating, but it doesn’t need to be. Your guests won’t be judging, they’ll be thankful that you invited them over and are facilitating friendship.
A key to hosting is creating a warm and inviting environment that will put your guests at ease. Arrange your chairs and furniture in a circle so that everyone can see each other. Serve hot tea and coffee. I also usually prepare a treat for sharing, like apple bread or scones. I particularly love this recipe. Nothing brings people together like food.
On the first evening of your book club, it’s important that everyone gets to know each other. I usually ask each person to say their name, what they are doing in this stage of life, and a book they read in the last year that they really appreciated. I prefer these questions to asking what each person does for work. We’re all in different stages of life. One of your guests might be an attorney at a fancy law firm, but another guest might be struggling to find a job. It’s better to point out differences in literary preferences than differences in income status.
After you’ve asked the first couple of questions, you’ll be delighted at how quickly discussion takes off. Reading is delightful, and discussing what you’ve discovered in literature is even more delightful.
During your book club, take a moment to soak in the beauty of the scene. There are few things as lovely and refreshing to the soul as literature shared among friends.
Kira Nelson is an associate at Gray Media, a government affairs and public relations firm in Boston. She loves reading good books, hosting parties, and spending time with her husband.