Themes and Tips for a Successful Book Club (when you need a change of pace)

Books and glasses

These days, I know as many women as not that belong to a book club (or book group, as it’s often known). While book clubs can be rewarding for anyone, male or female, single or part of a family, they’re perfect brief respites from the stresses of life, especially for busy women.

Book groups can form strong bonds and have surprising longevity, becoming somewhat of an anchor as the world shifts beneath our feet. There’s something about the combination of good books and good friends that feels quite timeless, and comforting.

Whether your group has been together for two years or two decades, it’s possible to fall into a rut. Are you squeezing out 30 to 45 minutes of discussion on who did or didn’t like the latest novel you chose before digressing into idle chit-chat? If so, you might need a change of pace.

Here are some themes and tips for successful book group (aka book club) meetings, especially for times when you need a change of pace and shake things up:

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Mindfulness books - photo by Breather / Unslplash

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Nonfiction themes

In a book group I belonged to some years ago, some of our fiction selections fell short of expectations in the first months of our meetings. We didn’t know one another very well, and somehow our discussions were falling flat. What helped us gel as a group was switching nonfiction for a while. Our selections included travel memoirs, the simplicity movement, mindfulness, and more.

By focusing more on the themes rather than literary analysis or our opinions about the books, we became more comfortable with discussion, and re-introduced fiction into the mix by and by.

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Willa Cather- April Twilights

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Classic women authors

If you had your fill of male authors in school, consider filling in the blanks of your literary education with books by classic women authors. Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Pearl S. Buck, Kate Chopin, Carson McCullers, Daphne Du Maurier … the list goes on.

See a roster of notable and often undervalued authors of the past at the top of this and every other page on this site, and in our Wish List — the list of classic authors we intend to add to this site. 

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Books and teacup - photo by / unsplash

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Reading and eating

This duo of passions can become one delicious ritual. Combine your discussions with a potluck dinner, brunch, or even a high tea. Take this theme to its utmost by choosing books with a culinary thread — rustic French fare with A Year in Provence; earthy Mexican food in Like Water for Chocolate; and speaking of chocolate, Chocolat.

A few more recent food-themed novels include The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, The Mistress of Spices, and Pomegranate Soup. There are many others; get more ideas in this list of food in fiction

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Books and glasses

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Lunch hour book group

Those with truly crowded schedules might want to take a page from a professional women’s book group in Washington, D.C. The group convenes once a month in one of several museum cafés, taking longer-than-usual lunch breaks to discuss Pulitzer Prize-winning books. You need not go full-on Pulitzer, but some unifying theme could help keep this kind of lunch break group focused.

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Orchard House - Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
is one of several women authors’ homes to visit in New England

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Book group field trips

Enrich your reading group experiences by taking field trips or occasional pilgrimages to literary sites. Planning this kind of adventure for your group can be a stimulating once-a-year event. Is there a well-known author’s home, a special library, or a college hosting a related exhibit or event? Is a well-known figure you’re reading about connected in some way in an area nearby?

Within a 3-hour range of where my book group lives and meets, are the historic homes of Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Washington Irving, Pearl S. Buck, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Herman Melville, and others. Yes, you guessed it, New York State and New England.

Do some research and discover which authors lived in or wrote about your region. Read their writings and/or a biography, then plan a voyage to pay homage to your local literary luminaries.

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Women’s biographies

One book group I heard tell of reads biographies of accomplished or daring women. Their selections have included bios of Georgia O’Keefe, Amelia Earhart, Billie Holiday. Others you might consider are Cleopatra, Martha Graham, and Eleanor Roosevelt. If you like to read about women authors, see our selected list of 12 Great Biographies of Women Authors.

The lives of the talented and famous were never tidy and not always happy, but they followed their unique paths, even if it meant breaking the rules. Their life stories can be tremendously inspiring.

Phyllis Rose, in The Norton Book of Women’s Lives, offers a great perspective on why it’s so gratifying to read women’s biographies: “I wanted to know what the possibilities were for women’s lives … I wanted wild women, women who broke loose, women who lived to the fullest.”

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A Little Princess & Anne of Green Gabes photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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Young adult books and children’s classics

When you need a break from 400-page tomes, there’s a lot of great contemporary literature in the Young Adult sector. There’s no shortage of heavy themes here, to be sure, but the books are eminently readable. Time magazine offers this list of the 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time.

We discussed classics by women authors above; you can also consider the great classics of children’s literature — ones the members of your group never read, and others that haven’t been cracked open in decades, and ripe for revisiting. Among them: Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Reconnect with your inner girl, and rediscover why these classics are so timeless. and if you have any daughters, read these with them — and invite them to join in the meeting!

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Reading Aloud to Children: Creating Lifelong Book Lovers
4 Ways to Love Books as a Family

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Photo credits
Teacup and books (top), Anete Lusina/Unsplash
Mindfulness book, Breather/Unsplash
Teacup and books (middle),
A Little Princess & Anne of Green Gables, Annie Spratt / Unsplash

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