The Welcome Mat

The Welcome Mat

Our book club has achieved some renown in our community, and I find myself fielding several requests by others to join. I am not sure how to handle this and accepting new members into an established group can be tricky. How should I proceed? – Ellen

Congratulations on your successful book club and its “rep.” Are you noting the similarities between high school and book clubs?

But on to your new candidates. Establish with your group whether space is truly available for a new member or two. Some club members might feel the more the merrier; others may feel squeamish about anything new (“Wasn’t that basil plant on the other side of your kitchen the last time I was here?”). Mutually decide if you would like to invite the candidate to a future club meeting and if you do, be sure to send details about the book you will be discussing well in advance. If the candidate will be arriving alone, be sure to send overly specific directions.

Once you have observed the potential new member’s book club style, the group may discuss his or her potential merits, chemistry with the regulars, the authenticity of the person’s smile, aura or any other criteria you might have developed over the years, or suddenly last night. Remember, it is your club and you reserve the right to extend an invitation or add names to your ever-growing waiting list. But why not make “welcoming” the official position of the club?

Too Much Information

I participate in a couple of book clubs. In one, our professional facilitator selects interesting books, does extensive research, keeps the discussion moving and relevant to the book. There’s disagreement but not acrimony. But the other club I find especially annoying: the volunteer leader pulls voluminous material off the Internet, more often about the author than the book, and insists on reading it verbatim. Then another person designated to recommend the next book, circulates about five books for the group to look at while she makes her pitch for each of them prior to a vote. There is very little time devoted to actual discussion of the book. What should we do? – Dorothy

“Volunteer” can mean many things: selfless and tireless individuals who toil for a worthy cause (I’m looking at you, Lady Sybil Crawley). Others are well meaning, though if they insist on a public reading of the entire Internet, they are probably in need of a lot of attention.

Decide on the rules going forward: Ten well-researched minutes for the introduction of the fall of Rome, including the author’s bio; one hour (or a time to be determined by the group) for the discussion with everyone allowed to make a brief statement about the book. The last 15 minutes might be dedicated to new book selection but presenters must make a Pact of Conciseness. Pitches for P.D. James’s smashing best seller Death Comes to Pemberley,  incorporating exacting references to Mr. Darcy and his estate, or a book and movie re-visitation of The Help, leaving no character unturned, should be prepared well ahead of the meeting for maximum effectiveness.

Parking Regulations

I attend a wonderful book group at my branch library. The only problem is the parking lot – it is a madhouse at the time of my book club. It is held at a very busy branch that has also suffered through reduced hours. Lines for spaces are often 3 or 4 cars deep.  One time I watched a patron leave the library, go to her car, turn on the ignition … and then take out her cell phone and yak for about five minutes. Then she put on her lipstick!  Any advice? – Stamford, Ct.

Three brief applications of your car horn – works every time.

The Shelf Life of a Book Club

I am starting to feel as if my book club of 11 years has exceeded its natural shelf life. I am constantly finding excuses to stay home with my daughters and husband who have their own schedules, so family time is important. And BTW, I also work full time, travel for my job and sing in a Gospel choir. How can I confirm whether it’s time to move on? – Anonymous

Think about why you joined the club in the first place. Has it changed, or have you and your busy life? If you find yourself putting book club attendance somewhere between folding school play programs and cleaning out everyone’s sock drawers, it’s probably time to send out your email of farewell.

But in most cases, book clubs are like the Hotel California where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And in the end, your club will most likely have you back if you decide you miss them, and you will.

The Club Column welcomes your book club questions. Please send your questions to:

Follow Diana Loevy on twitter: @Dianaloevy

It’s Always Personal

It’s Always Personal

I could swear that during regular book discussions, some members go after each other with highly charged remarks – always about the book, but it still gets very heated and makes others uncomfortable. Should those involved take it personally and what should the bystanders do?  – Anonymous

Although some people come to the club looking for Shakespearean drama and others are still harboring memories of what happened two years ago, most of us look forward to our book clubs, imagining it as a sunny meadow, with perhaps a few fluffy clouds of controversy floating in an inevitable blue sky or starry, starry night.

If it sounds like a personal attack, it usually is one. In fact, it’s always personal. People value their clubs for the friendships they foster, but all is not blue sky every minute in every friendship either. There is room for disagreement, even sulking. But there is always room for renewal in both a friendship and in a book club.

For those sitting on the sidelines admiring the fireworks, don’t be afraid to step in. Encourage the move to a different topic and work towards changing the tone and the mood. If your book club is the well-oiled machine I know it is, there is never a shortage of fresh and pithy topics.

Hosting: Personal Best

I always look forward to seeing my book club, but hosting can become a competitive chore. No one says anything directly, but I feel that the club expects me to bake everything from scratch. I work full time and I have young children. How hard should we work on the food and drink portion of our program? – Laura

Not many of us have the staff of Downton Abbey for book club night, though I am putting in one request for Mr. Carson’s general service and one of Mrs. Patmore’s more successful puddings. Some of us feel that when it comes to book club hosting, if you are not baking, assembling, polishing and creating themes that also match seasonal center pieces, you are letting down the side. I have seen groups introduce the book selection segment of the club with a dessert table right out of Bridesmaids (though, sadly, no chocolate fountain).

For most of us, the important thing is to simply offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere where ideas are discussed without fear or favor. This is not to say you shouldn’t prepare for your club’s arrival to the best of your ability, beginning with some key questions: Where is everyone going to sit?  Are there enough chairs or perches of all descriptions? If it is customary in your club for your family to come in to say hello, does everyone know the schedule and what to expect?

Many clubs take the potluck approach and are very successful. But potluck is an inexact science. On a few occasions, I have seen a late arrival surveying the room, then rushing out on an emergency spirits run when he or she determines the supply will simply not get the club through the next two hours.

Spoilers Alerted

My biggest pet peeve is when people don’t read the book, and then insist that others in the group not “spoil the ending” by discussing it. If you’re going to be in a book club, you should finish the book, but, at a minimum, you shouldn’t let your failure restrict the discussion of those who have read the book. Your thoughts? – Washington, D.C.

Let me state that the founding truths about being in a book club include: 1. You read the book, and 2.You discuss all of its contents, including the ending. Those who couldn’t get to the book or the ending may listen in but may not protest the main event of the evening, the book discussion, leaving no page unturned.

Each of us has times when we can’t get to or finish the book but still want to attend the club. And most non-finishers admit they have not read or not finished the book and then proceed to their statements if the club allows — and we almost always give the green light. We are not monsters!

Being part of the group is the main thing, though it’s not the only thing. At your very next book club, have a real discussion about how you feel about those “don’t spoil the ending” insisters. It may not even have occurred to them that they are asking for a special privilege. Chances are, by the next club they will suddenly become well-read Elizabeth Bennets, with a ready quip for a random Bingley sister, their minds on fire with a pointed argument about the book – and its ending which they have made time to read and about which they have many opinions.


The Club Column welcomes your book club questions. Please send your questions to:

Follow Diana Loevy on twitter: @Dianaloevy