Like any gathering of people, book clubs can be tough to sustain. They depend on the entire group's ability to play by the rules and honor the mission of their club. Nonetheless, most readers dream of having a lively, intellectually enriching book club -- if they don't already have one, of course. There's just something comforting about getting together with like-minded people to share a love of words and stories.
The pitfalls to book club success are many -- too much wine, too little commitment, internal dissension over reading materials, and so on. You can't fix an irretrievably flawed club, of course, but you can make sure that you are the best possible member you can be, doing your own small part to sustain the health of your little literary community. We here at HuffPost Books haven’t always been book club all-stars ourselves, but our failures have enlightened us as to the keys to success.
If you want to be the twin-set-rocking, universally beloved Taylor Swift of your book club, it seems pretty simple: read the books, play nice, and follow these 19 easy rules:If you are invited to join a book club, pretend you like everyone. You may think your friend’s boyfriend’s sister spends too much time sharing pictures of her dog or that her coworker constantly dominates the conversation, but don’t make waves. Don't invite others to join the klatch without going through the full bureaucratic process. Respect the democratic rule of the club. Just because you've been invited doesn't mean your roommate is also invited; in fact, if they didn't invite her themselves, there might be a good reason. Like her tendency to bogart the wine. Accept each book picked with grace. Book clubs may select books in a number of ways -- voting, following Oprah’s picks, taking turns to make the choice, picking Ping-Pong balls out of an old-school lottery machine, etc. Whichever method is used, go along with it. In fact, accept each book picked with enthusiasm (feigned if necessary). Do not complain or make passive-aggressive comments about the book chosen because it’s nonfiction. Or fiction. Or by Nicholas Sparks. Complaining makes others in the club feel bad about their reading choices, and that’s not what book club is about. If you want to make people feel bad about what they read, consider writing a thinkpiece for Salon. On the other hand, if you are selecting the next book, don’t choose a newly published $30 hardcover tome that your mom got you for Christmas anyway. Seriously, dude? If you don’t feel like reading the whole book in time for the meeting, resist the urge to make up a legitimate-sounding excuse to skip it, like your dog's birthday party or a terminal illness. Don't be sneaky. Go to the meeting like you promised. Do not ask to push back the meeting so you can procrastinate even longer on those last 32.5 pages. Pushing back the meetings causes confusion and chaos, and it will be your fault. Just finish the book, okay? Book club is a commitment, like marriage or a mortgage. If the gathering is at someone’s home, bring a baked good, fancy cheese, or classy beverage (Diet Pepsi does not count, sorry) as an offering to the book club party gods. A Good Book Club Member helps sustain clubmates physically through the hours of intense literary philosophizing ahead. We recommend baking lemon bars. Come prepared with a few themes or topics you’d like to discuss in case the conversation needs a jumpstart. You may print out suggested discussion guides from the Internet, but please make sure the guides are for the correct book, or at least a very similar one (for example, they both have boats in them). Do not start the discussion with “This book sucked.” Also, do not start the discussion with “Who was more horrible, the main character or her best friend?” Or “Next time, can we read something better? Like maybe something by Stephen King?” Or “Ooh, can we try to find Jen some cute Tinder matches for once? Jen, let us see your phone!” (This is a club for book discussion, not for reliving your single days vicariously through Jen.) Don’t be that guy who keeps trying to direct the conversation back to the first 20 pages of the book. At least pretend you read the whole thing. If you must, simply nod wisely and enigmatically in response to other members’ points about the book, and occasionally interject with something uncontroversial like “Exactly” or “I had a similar reaction” or “Really Kafkaesque, don’t you agree?” (No one is entirely sure what Kafkaesque means, anyway.) Don’t be that guy who confidently brings up plot points for discussion after seeing them in the movie adaptation. You will get caught. Arrive having read the whole book! Despite all the wine and cheese plates lying around, the point of a book club (we think) is to encourage you to read more so you can enjoy fun, intellectually stimulating literary discussions with your coworker’s college roommates, or whoever is in your book club. Don't dominate the discussion. If people stop even trying to interrupt you over the course of your long monologue on the book, it's probably not because they're enthralled by your encyclopedic knowledge of the Western canon. You've broken their spirit. Endeavor to keep discussion about the book, which you’ve definitely read in its entirety, on track. Keeping things on track is a team effort. Be part of that team. If conversation goes off-track nonetheless, as wine-fueled book club discussions tend to do, do not become frustrated and burst out hysterically, “Can everyone just shut up?? UGH, what was the point of even reading this?!?” A Good Book Club Member remains calm and collected. Remember that book club is for respectful, enjoyable conversation. Even when you strongly disagree with a member’s take on the book, refrain from bandying about words like “idiotic,” “absurd,” or “pseudo-intellectual." When the night is over, do not insist on taking the rest of the lemon bars you provided. Those belong to your long-suffering book club host now. Leave them for her to enjoy as she scrubs wine stains and pen marks out of her upholstery. Offer to host next time. Then you get to eat all the leftover lemon bars. Which is the whole point of joining a book club.