How to Find Your City’s Best Book Club
Sometimes it can be difficult to find new friends to socialize with for good, intellectual conversation or meet people in general outside of a bar. If drinking and trying to shout in an acquaintance’s ear over loud music isn’t really your thing, joining a book club can be a great way to make friends and learn something new. They might be stereotyped as social gatherings for middle-aged housewives who only want to read Fifty Shades of Grey or the latest Jodi Picoult book (there are plenty of book clubs like that if that’s your thing), but there are book clubs all over the country catering to literature, different genres, and skewing the conversation in various directions.
According to this Slate article, book clubs are still one of the most popular forms of adult socialization, with an estimated 5 million people taking part in book clubs in the U.S. In terms of adult group leisure activities, book clubs cover a wide range of demographics, including both men and women, serious readers and those in it for entertainment, and people interested in the latest pop culture phenomenon, science fiction, or cook books.
As an introverted literature nerd who moved from Michigan to Nashville alone after graduating college, I knew that finding a good book club would be the saving grace of my social life in my new city. I attended many book clubs, some great and some not my cup of tea, during my first year eight hours away from anyone I knew, and met my best friends through the clubs.
With a little bit of trial and error and potentially some social discomfort, you should be able to find a book club in your city that suits your interests, provides you with inspiring reading material (as well as a deadline to get it read), and helps you meet some like-minded readers. Here’s a list of the best places to look for book clubs.
Meetup is a great website for finding any kind of social group you can imagine. The bigger the city you live in, the more options you’re likely to have to choose from, but Meetup has groups for casual socializing, various fitness activities, eating out, cooking in — basically any interest you have there’s probably a group for it. Book clubs are popular offerings on the site, and with so many to choose from you can narrow down to one that best fits your interests. Some are narrowed by gender or age, which can actually be very helpful for younger people looking for literary buddies. Many book clubs do tend to skew toward an older demographic, which can be fine for conversation but not really the way to grow your social group. Scanning the profiles of other members can be a useful way of determining average age if that’s not a stipulation of the club itself. Book clubs are most frequently broken down by genre. Meetup provides a list of recent events where you can see the previous books that a group has read and read reviews of the club from the members as well as get a description of the group from the person who runs it.
The best book club I’ve found in Nashville is run on Meetup and I attended many groups managed through the site. To help narrow it down, I looked for clubs that met on my side of town, hoping to meet people who also lived relatively near me. Then I looked for clubs that focus on literature rather than anything genre-y or popular. An all-female feminist club run by a young East Nashvillian was the perfect fit given my interest in feminist literature and lack of desire to use the club to find a boyfriend (though there’s no reason a book club couldn’t be great for that).
2. The local library
Another place to look for book clubs in your city is the local library. While your closest branch might offer a book club, it could also be worth checking out all the events offered around your city’s library system to find the perfect fit. Even better, you can check the books out from the library rather than buying them, which saves you money and lends your support to the worthiest of causes. The library is a good way to make sure to keep your book club activities cheap or free. Oftentimes private book clubs can involve meeting at restaurants or coffee shops. Meeting at someone’s home can come with the obligation of bringing food or booze for all to share. While this can be fun, it can become expensive. I’ve definitely stopped going to certain book clubs that had the predilection for meeting at fancy restaurants once a month, which in addition to buying the book was an expense I couldn’t take on. Check out your library’s website or stop in and ask a librarian if there are groups you can take part in.
The library system in Nashville offers a huge amount of book club meetings for different age groups, from teens to seniors. The Nashville library also offers a “Book Club in a Bag” kit to help you start your own club, complete with 10 copies of a popular book, discussion questions, author biography, and book club tips straight from the library. It’s worth asking to see if your library has a similar program to help you start your own club.
3. Book stores
Local book stores are another good venue to search for book clubs and are a great way to support local business. Some independently owned book stores run their own book clubs facilitated by the owner or someone who works there, a perfect literature buddy if there ever was one. This also provides the excuse to do regular book shopping through an actual store rather than resorting to ordering everything through Amazon. Leave your Kindle at home and buy next month’s book while you’re in the store.
Author Ann Patchett’s bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville has a book club that meets to discuss the same book three different times per month, which provides some options in case you can’t make it to one of the meetings. Check out the websites of your independent bookstores to see if they sponsor a book club meeting. If they don’t, chances are they might know the places that do.
4. Start Your Own!
If your city doesn’t have what you’re looking for, chances are someone else who lives there feels the same way. If you go to a bunch of meetings and can’t seem to find the right group, you should consider starting your own club. It’s not as difficult as you might think. There’s no need to open up your home to a bunch of strangers; just set up a time for the group to meet at a coffee shop, which doesn’t cost too much or can even usually be snuck into for free.
Meetup is a good place to post a group that will help people find you quickly, but you could also post flyers at the library or book stores or coffee shops. Being in control means you get to decide what to read, what questions to ask, when and where to meet up, and who can join.
Come up with a good short paragraph to describe what the group is about for your flyers and online profile in order to attract your ideal type of members. For example, if you’re starting a science fiction group for only the most hardcore sci-fi geeks, say so and then assign something that reflects that. If you’re nervous about leading a discussion, you can choose a book that already has book club discussion questions made for it. LitLovers.com has a lot of great resources for those running their own book club.
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!