Book, cake and me

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Readers of the World Unite

As a child I enjoyed many pursuits, wondering in fields looking for places to make dens, swinging from ropes like a monkey in barns (dangerous), lying on the sunny part of my landing floor reading a good book ... all very healthy pursuits.  Then I moved away from my country village to Newcastle and had a whole street of other children to play with.  This is where my love of clubs outside of the Brownies began, nature club, micro machines club, bike club the list goes on.  If only I had a laminator for all those membership cards...
So as an adult I am proud to be a member of a reading group.  One, I suppose you could say, I facilitate.   A reading group is a rewarding group for many reasons, there are no laminated membership cards in our group...yet, but it is a great way to widen your reading choices, find new authors and genres you may not have chosen yourself.  It is a point of discussion and you get to know your friends even better or indeed make new good friends. 
You can start your own reading group too, here’s how:
Promise cake and drink.
Ask your friends and get them to suggest people that they know who may be interested.  See how many members you can potentially have.  I would say six or seven is ideal and to be honest it is rare that you have a meeting where every member is there, so if you can drop one or two each meeting and still have a good discussion, you will be fine. Excuse my harsh use of the verb ‘drop’ here, but you get the idea.
Invite friends and selected friends, friends.  I did this by email in which I suggested dates for our first meeting so we can ‘get to know each other’ and discuss how reading group would work practically.  I hosted the first meeting at my home. People will offer to bring drink and if you say you are making a cake or cakes others may offer alternative choice of cake and nibbles too.
There must not be a leader but you must have a facilitator.  This is someone who can steer your happy reading group boat.  The facilitator will make sure they relate dates, times, venues, book choices and comments regarding meetings as well initiate any discussion about how reading group is run.     Making a group of contacts in your email contacts is the easiest way to do this.
Have your first proper meeting! 
I would say, relax about the first ten minutes as people turn up pour drinks, eat cake and natter.  If your group is like mine we all know each other quite well now and about ten minutes in, when you have had a general catch up, the facilitator needs to jump in and get the book discussion started or you may lose it all together.  I have found myself discussing sock quality, cake quality and even man quality within that adequate ten minute slot, after that we move on to solutions for world peace, deep philosophical questions are explored and the future of the science fiction genre.  So bring the book in and let the discussion begin.  We have no format for this; no talking stick, no timed slots in which to put across your point of view, no presentations, graphs and no scales by which to judge the books.  We are a group that does not like to be bound by anything and discussion follows on fluidly from one member to the next and yes, we can go off on interesting tangents but will summarise and evaluate the book in our own organic way.   In fact we are a group that does not like to feel like we have to do much work really.
Be cool.  Not everyone will read the book for many reasons and there have been some books that have been quite a challenge on many levels, which brings me to advice about making changes if you need to.   However, your group may find itself wanting more parameters to maximise discussion and participation.  We used to take it in turns to choose the book and this was good in many ways as it meant you chose a book and no one could argue thereby widening other members’ reading experience.  We have, however, changed this as we felt it was becoming too stressful with all that power and responsibility, Peter Parker can attest to that.  We spent time in one meeting coming up with themes and making a list.  We have started our thematic reading with vampire novels and our title choices are now pulled out of a hat.  So members have shared responsibility and have to find titles within the theme to write down and put in the hat or we just decide all together in our meeting depending how people feel.
Once you have decided how your group will work you need to arrange the next meeting as soon as possible, either in the meeting or by email the next week.  Four weeks is generally enough time though you may give an extra week for Christmas or holidays.  We did play around with longer times so that more people could finish the books, but it loses momentum and becomes a bit stagnant.  So I would recommend monthly meetings and we have ours at members’ homes and sometimes a nice pub is good for discussion.  We may even meet in a local park in the summer, let the teenagers join in so long as they share their White Lightening and fags.  Do kids these days still drink White Lightening? 
The future is an open book and a clean page with reading group.  I have a vision where Isleworth reading groups unite, we have a convention or jamboree.  We could even invite international groups and meet in a hotel conference room with a buffet... the possibilities for swapping cake recipes are endless.
Readers of the World Unite!
Do you already have a reading group?  Do you have a laminator?  Join in the discussions on these pages.  Next title is ‘The Vampire Lestat’ by Anne Rice I will post my comment in a few weeks. Please if you have read it make a comment too, this blog is intended to reach out to a wider reading community.


  1. This made me snigger and smile!
    How do you manage to fit in baking as well? I am so impressed.

    The onus in our book group is a great cheese board and wine.

    Our book group does not have a facilitator. This is how we do it - just 4 reference - not competition!

    1. I instigated the group and hosted our first meeting and chose the first book (post chats and lists and discussions as you did using a child’s easel , I hasten to add). I emailed all members the book title and details of the following host. (Host B)

    2. Host B (hosts work alphabetically) emails her preferred time for the book group to commence and her address/parking / transport details. She hosts the book group and we discuss the previous title.

    3. Host B chooses the following title and emails members at the end of the group re the new title and the new host

    Host A chooses title
    Host A emails all members
    Host B hosts discussion of chosen title
    Host B chooses the following title
    Host B emails members
    Host C ... repeat repeat

    Thus, not needing a facilitator. Most important for us since many members were having babies or had small children. By sharing the load everyone feels involved and it doesn't matter if someone is absent.

    I adore the idea of laminated cards! And a future reading book event sounds fantastic - perhaps we could set it up like a speed dating event so that everyone gets to chat with all participants!!

  2. Thank you for your comment BimBam. Love the system you have, it makes perfect sense and a child's easel is perfectly designed for the needs of reading group discussion!

    The speed dating style event is genius I would love it!

    Thank you for sharing. Off to source some nice cheese ....