Do you belong to a book club? It seems as though almost everyone I know belongs to at least one book club. For years, I held out staunchly against joining one.  I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not some dreary book about dysfunctional people which is what so many book clubs seemed to choose.  Well, of course, I finally gave in and have been in the same club for twelve years. (Now that I have moved to Anacortes, I am stilling reading my book club books; just not getting to the meetings.)  I I have read some truly memorable books I would never have picked up if I weren't forced to.  (Of course, a few of them were truly memorable for being truly dreadful.)

Some years ago, I was asked to make a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ on the topic of starting a church book club. The things I discussed are common to starting any book club.  If you are tempted to do this, here are some things to think about: 

  • Your Mission Statement

  • Your Membership

    How many?

    Men? Women? Co-ed?

  • Your Meetings

    How often will you meet?

    How long will you meet?

    Where will you meet?

  • Rules and Regulations

    no smoking - no pets - no children - no tardiness - no handiwork - no side conversations - no interrupting - no guests - don't come unless you have read the book. Or - no rules.

  • Your name

    Some book clubs choose a name for themselves such as: The Smokey Mountain Bookers (Not Hookers), Twelve Mouthy Chicks and Lamar, Women Who Read Too Much and the Dogs Who Love Them, We're Smart - You're Not.  (The book club I am in is called the Killer Bookworms.)

  • The Organizer, the Facilitator, and the Discussion Leader (We don't have discussion leaders, but a facilitator is essential to remind members of the meeting dates and the books we're supposed to be reading.)

  • To Eat, or not to Eat

  • How to Choose Your Books

    Consensus? Hostess picks?

    What makes a good selection?

  • How to Read Your Books (Usually, start at the beginning and continue onto the end, but some people like to take notes and jot down questions or comments.)

  • How to Discuss Your Books (I would advise NOT asking, "Who's the idiot who chose this book?!")

Some Recommended Books

  • Books to get you started (check your public library for these - and more)

Good Books Lately: The One-Stop Resource for Book Groups and Other Greedy Readers by Ellen Moore and Kira Stevens (St. Martin's,2004)

Best for: Entertaining style, wealth of information (the sub-title says it all), and thematic book suggestions.

The Reading Group Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Book Club by Rachel Jacobsohn (Hyperion, 1998)

Best for: Lots of reading lists. The author's approach is a little more rigid than most.

The Reader's Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria Golden McMains(Quill, 2000)

Best for: Each of the 200 choices includes a plot synopsis, author information and suggested discussion questions.

A Year of Reading: A Month-by-Month Guide to Classics and Crowd-pleasers for You or Your Book Group by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller (Sourcebooks, Inc, 2002)

Best for: Video and Internet resources to enrich the reading experience.

Read It and Eat: A Month-by-Month Guide to Scintillating Book Club Selections and Mouthwatering Menus by Sarah Gardner (Hudson Street Press, 2005)

Best for: Suggestions for books that you'd actually want to read, great discussion questions, and recipes for dishes you'd definitely want to eat.

  • Interesting Choices for a Church Book Club - all but one are in Plymouth Library. Guess which one isn't!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (F KIN)

On just about every book club's list, this novel tells the story of the family of an evangelical Baptist minister in the Belgian Congo over a thirty year period.

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout (F STR)

Set in the 1950s, the author explores the corrosive power of gossip and suspicion as it affects a recently widowed Congregational minister.

Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Tyndale, 1995)

This is the book that has spawned prequels, sequels, a series for children, bible study guides, movies, and more. In painfully stilted prose, the authors describe the tortures that await those who are unprepared for the Rapture, those who are left behind.  This book is a great discussion starter!  You probably won't want to read more than one in the series - or finish this one.

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong (200.9 ARM)

Booklist calls this "an utterly enthralling reading experience".

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (813 LAM)

Lamott's essays deal with mourning a mother she never liked, trying to follow Jesus and love her enemy (in this Case, the President), and traveling on the bumpy road of faith.

God's Politics:Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis (261.7 WAL)

The author writes about "taking back the faith" through "prophetic religion". Combine this with the following title!

The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity by Eric Elnes (269 ELN)

Eric Elnes, who was then pastor of Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ, writes about twelve principles, or "affirmations", of the progressive Christian Church based on Jesus' three great loves: God, neighbor, and self.