When 2011 started, one of my personal goals was to read all six of Jane Austen's novels (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, NorthHanger Abbey and Mansfield Park). I decided that the way I wanted to proceed in accomplishing this was to start my own Jane Austen Bookclub (JABC). We started in June and have two meetings left. It has been a wonderful experience. I have made new friends and am 5 novels through my goal of reading all her novels this year.
While there are many ways to start and run a bookclub, I wanted to keep things simple. No officers, no minutes, no bureacracy. Just women with a love of Austen getting together and discussing something other than children, families or laundry. Here is how I did mine:
Decide on the parameters.
My JABC meets once a month. At the first meeting, we all picked our novel to be responsible for (the minimum obligation was to read just one of her novels--the one you picked at the first meeting-- but most of the members chose to read all). When it was time for "your novel" to be discussed, you helped and/or led the group discussions. I encouraged my friends who may or may not have time in a given month to get the novel read to view one of the movie versions so they could follow along and still contribute.
HInt~As the founder, it will be your responsibility to make sure all opinions are heard and respected, to keep people on topic (the book at hand and not drift into famiy life, children or realtionships) and to make sure everyone has ample opportunity to participate. Sometimes that will mean kindly helping a long winded person to "wrap up" or asking lead questions to help shy members open up.
When and Where to meet
My JABC meets at a different restaurant or cafe each month. I made a hard and unwielding rule of no children and so that meant my house was out! Some bookclubs have their members take turns hosting the meeting each month. This is a nice way to do it also, but does not work so well if any of the members are still raising small children. I picked middle range cafes/restaurants that offered lots of choices from snacks to full meals to accomodate everyones needs and pocketbooks.
Hint~~we met on a Friday night. For my JABC this was a night that no one had early obligations the next day and one of my members who was driving in from a few hours away could hook the meeting date onto an overnight visit with her daughter who lived locally and noone had to miss work. If I chose a cafe/restaurant that tended to be popular, It was my responsibility to make the reservation for us.
I collected $20 in dues at the first meeting. In return, my members received a gift bag that included a Jane Austen themed journal they could use for writing notes, a pen, and a stack of vintage style mini post its. While not necessary, handing these out at the first meeting got everyone excited about the club and reading that first book.
Hint~~ Dues are not necessary if your club is small, and can easily be omitted if finances are tight. Also, I encouraged my members to check out the Austen books they did not have at the local library. A book club can be free for members in that regard. However, if you choosing to host each meeting at your own home instead of taking turns or at a restaurant or other public meeting place, I do recommend it. If nothing else a small due collected at the beginning will cover refreshments (wine and cheese? tea and scones?).
How to find Members
I sent out an email to everyone I know and also put up flyers at the local bookstores and the local library. Oddly enough, I found my two most active participants, a mother and daughter, through an advertisement I had decided at the last minute to put on Craigslist. I had one new member join midway through, and others drop as time went on. You will have to decide at the beginning that you don't care how many people show up. As long as one other Austen lover shows, you will have a fabulous book discussion.
Hint~~ I always sent out the meeting date/time 3 weeks in advance and would send everyone a reminder text or email the week of. We would spend the first 15-20 minutes "catching up" on personal tidbits, and then start discussing the book of that month.
Keep it simple, but make it special
I wanted my members to look forward to bookclub so that if something came up mid month they would not want to ditch JABC but rather respond "I can't do that...I have bookclub!" with a smile and anticipation on their face ;-) So, each month I brought my stack of English home magazines to the meetings and let members swap them out for a different issue to take home. Turns out, I am told this was some member's favorite part. I also sent a set of study questions and other points of interest links from the web to the members at various times to do with what they chose. In the end, I allowed them to decide their level of participation.
Hint~~the internet is a great resource. I was able to find discussion questions on the PBS website for all the Jane Austen novels that I would send to member before hand and we would often use these to lead our discussions!
Celebrate the End
My JABC started in June, after tax season, so my own Mr. Darcy would be available to be home with our children while I was at bookclub, and will conclude in December with our last meeting. That lat meeting will be held at the local tea house, and will coincide with Jane Austen's birthday month. Meeting June-Dec allowed us a one month buffer in case there was a cancellation and still enabled us to get through all 6 of her novels prior to our ending date.
Hint~~ At the last meeting, you can see if there is a different author everyone would be interested in doing the following year. Or you can do a favorites bookclub, where each person gets to pick one book (their favorite) of any genre, or of one decided upon genre, that each member reads.
I hope this has shown you how easy it is to start your own bookclub. A bookclub is a wonderful way to learn more about an author, timeperiod, or subject. It is also a wonderful way to make new friends and get some quality adult/me/intellectual time into your schedule. I found it was wonderful way to make new friends in addition to giving much needed face-time to some current friendships.
**photo credits: please see my Pinterest board titled "jane austen luvs" for photo credits.
**This post is linked up with the Homestead Revival Hop.