I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this idea was born out of an author crush. In 2008, I was escorting John Burnham Schwartz to an event at Watermark, and he told me he had just finished the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. The next day, I held up a copy (with 2 hands) and jokingly said to another bookseller, “We should read this for a book club.” We both laughed. And then we stopped laughing, realizing that it was actually a pretty good idea. Watermark owner Sarah Bagby thought so, too, and we started a temporary book club called the Watermark Challenge.
We challenged our customers to read War and Peace with us over the course of the summer, and to keep everybody on the same page (sorry), they had to read the new translation. We thought we might have ten takers, and we were even more in love with the idea when more than 100 people accepted the War and Peace Challenge. The challenge grew and Watermark began to organize a different challenge for spring, summer and fall. I think it helped that Sarah accepted and met each challenge, participating along with her customers. (I bought every book, but failed at every challenge.)
Temporary book clubs are beneficial for several reasons.
- Customers who are reluctant to join traditional monthly book clubs like the noncommittal approach. There’s a beginning, but there’s also an end.
- Author-less events are still events, bringing customers into your store.
- Experts from the community can be called upon for their expertise, and because the book club is temporary, they might be more willing to say yes.
You do not have to limit your selections to classics. Watermark also hosted a temporary book club for teens featuring Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series in anticipation of the movie release last summer. Or you could read a whole body of work by a contemporary author.
To set up a temporary book club, you only need to follow these steps:
- Select a book. If you’re looking to explore a classic, decide on a specific edition.
- Solicit a leader for the book club. This can be a bookseller or an expert from the community. Have a time frame in mind so they know to what they’re committing. (Monthly meetings over the course of the summer, bi-weekly meetings for five sessions, etc.)
- With the leader, determine how the book might be divided into segments and the amount of time necessary to read the sections.
- Look at your calendar and plan meeting dates according to the reading assignments.
- Pull together marketing materials, including background on the book, why you’ve selected it, a bio of the leader, and the meeting dates with reading expectations.
- Promote, promote, promote… just like you would for an event.
If you’re not motivated to start your own temporary book club, you can join up with NPR and participate in theirs. They are reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath before it turns 75 years old. The organizers have already determined dates and reading segments. All you have to do is promote it to your customers and host the meetings at your store. I would hook-up to their online meetings, but then allow for discussion among your own group after the broadcast.