Writers have a tendency to become homebodies, to embrace solitude and focus on writing and reading alone. Reading is, of course, a solitary act; a subjective journey that we take on our own and into ourselves. Reading isolates you from others: you carry the experience of the book within you, but who can you tell? Who will understand?\r\n\r\nReading alone is not only lonely but makes for a narrow-minded view of literature, which is no good if you want to be a successful writer. Writers must read widely and read often, as we\u2019re always told. We need to find new resources, read reviews, take recommendations. Writers must also learn how to pick apart the books they read, to challenge themselves, to see the stories from new perspectives. We need to add a social element to the solitary art of reading.\r\n\r\nMaybe we\u2019re shy; maybe we don\u2019t know where to meet other readers like ourselves; maybe we don\u2019t have time for a social life. That\u2019s why you should start (or join) a book club.\r\n\r\nInspire your social life with a readerly twist... Image Credit: Thomas Huang, Creative Commons\r\nWhy start one when you could join one?\r\nAt the beginning of the year, in that liminal space between old and new, spurred on by talk of New Year\u2019s Resolutions and new experiences, I started a book club. I\u2019d been conscious of becoming more withdrawn and wanted to kickstart my social life again, and what better way to do it than talk about reading (and writing)?\r\n\r\nI knew of a few relevant groups but couldn\u2019t bring myself to squeeze into them without knowing anybody. I searched online for local book clubs and found that they were all for casual readers rather than literary or writerly readers, who need to rip texts apart and learn things from them. I also found that a lot of book clubs were held on weekdays or at times I couldn\u2019t fit into my schedule.\r\n\r\nThere wasn\u2019t anywhere that I felt, as a writer, I could fit in as a reader. There\u2019s no better way to find what you want (and need) than to create it for yourself, and the great thing about starting a book club is that you have freedom to make it exactly what you want it to be.\r\nDecide what you want from it\r\nWhen I was on the search for a book club I knew what sort of group I would fit into best. I needed likeminded people; people who were not only readers but also writers; people that would understand what I knew but would also expand my knowledge.\r\n\r\nTo start a book club you need to have direction, and that means knowing what you want the group to be and what you want to get back from it. If you want to explore new writing, start a group that reads only contemporary books and if you want to fangirl over fantasy then focus your group on genre writing.\r\n\r\nYou can focus your book club on just about anything:\r\n\r\n\tGenre (sci-fi and fantasy, realism and literature, poetry)\r\n\tGender and Age (male, female, young, old)\r\n\tAuthor (reading the entire works of a single beloved writer)\r\n\tPublication date (ancient, classic, contemporary)\r\n\tPublication country (American writing, African Diaspora, British Isles)\r\n\tOr don't specify at all and see where it takes you!\r\n\r\nWhatever parameters you choose for the reading, also consider certain \u2018rules\u2019 for the meetings themselves. Think about possible locations for meetings (local cafes, people\u2019s homes, or purely online?), whether you want mixed genders or a more \u2018girls\u2019 night\u2019 or \u2018mates\u2019 date\u2019 kind of vibe, and whether you want group members to be super strict with their readings (comprehensive notes necessary) or more casual (haven\u2019t read the whole book? No worries!).\r\n\r\nEstablishing the expectations for your group early on avoids disagreements, disappointments, and dodgy decision-making. When everyone knows what they\u2019re in for, everyone\u2019s more likely to join for the right reasons and have a great time.\r\n\r\nDiscover new stories and new friends... Image Credit: Porsche Brosseau, Creative Commons\r\nGetting people together\r\nSo you\u2019ve got the concept of your book club settled but you\u2019ve got nobody to attend the actual meetings. Depending on whether you want to catch up with new people or friends you already know, your methods of spreading the word about your new group might vary.\r\n\r\nA simple post on social media asking for interested parties might be just the thing you need to get a group together.\r\n\r\nIf you don\u2019t want to throw your net wide open you can tell a few friends, ask them to invite a friend each, and all of a sudden you have a mix of old and new buddies!\r\n\r\nStarting afresh? Try starting a group online through a site like Meetup, posting flyers in cafes and bookstores, or talking to local libraries (or universities, or writing centres) about advertising through their channels.\r\n\r\nThe way you get your group together depends on how many readers you\u2019re expecting to bring together and how comfortable you are with meeting new people. I\u2019m more on the socially awkward side so I posted through Facebook, got a small group of four together, then expanded with friends-of-friends. The important thing to remember is that not everybody will be available for every meeting, so aiming high can sometimes leave you with just the right number.\r\nHow to keep organised\r\nIt\u2019s not enough to just start a group and get people together. You need to have excellent communication from month to month (or week to week, or whenever your meetings are planned for!). There will be a lot of decisions to make and confirm with everyone in the group, like what the book is, where you\u2019ll meet up, and who can make it on the day.\r\n\r\nFacebook groups are ideal for this because everyone can easily comment and make friends fast with a few clicks (on a site you\u2019re no doubt already familiar with). Other apps like Whatsapp are also great for the tech savvy and for reaching out to members who might not have Facebook (yes, they exist!). Swap emails and phone numbers \u2013 you never know when they might come in handy.\r\n\r\nThe best advice I can give is to plan far ahead in time, like a whole month ahead. At the end of your meeting start discussing the next one, and then get in contact with everyone and let them know the details while they\u2019re still buzzing from the fun times they just had.\r\n\r\nEscape the solitude and expand your horizons... Image Credit: Sacha Fernandez, Creative Commons\r\nWhat I\u2019ve learned from my book club\r\nAs someone who \u2018runs\u2019 (or at least, is part of) a book club, and has been doing so for a solid eight or nine months now, there are a few things I\u2019ve learned along the way (in addition to all of the above):\r\n\r\n\tCome up with questions and topics \u2013 this helps to get the conversation going and helps you to think about the chosen book in new analytic ways (which in turn improves your writing!)\r\n\tBe democratic \u2013 make sure everyone discusses the book choice and that everyone gets a say, especially if some members are more quiet than others\r\n\tGet feedback \u2013 you want people to have a good time, so find out what\u2019s working and what\u2019s not and tweak your meetings to the best they can be\r\n\tExpand your horizons \u2013 other people in your group have fantastic ideas, and the whole point of book club is to swap reading experiences; listen to people\u2019s recommendations, try new things, read from new perspectives\r\n\r\nStarting a book club was easily one of the brighter initiatives I\u2019ve had this year. I\u2019ve reconnected with old friends, met new people, read (and loved) books I\u2019d never think to pick up. We\u2019ve had deep conversations about feminism and the authority of the writer and we\u2019ve had excited chats about new TV shows and Harry Potter.\r\n\r\nBook club became more than just a monthly meeting; all I had to do was put myself out there, without fear of rejection or disappointment, and I\u2019m so glad that I finally did.