Reading for the fun of it

Here's what it takes to start your very own book club

In bookstores and living rooms across the country, African American book lovers are having lively discussions about Blanche’s adventures on the lain (Barbara Neely) and how to find their groove like Stella did (Terry McMillan). What’s the attraction? Book clubs, it seems, are giving us a way to share our passion for the written word and widen our circle of friends.

What’s more, the work being turned out by black authors, who’ve found widespread acceptance in the 1980s and ’90s, is inspiring us to discuss characters and situations that are so familiar to us. The success of Oprah Winfrey’s onair literary salon and Web sites like the African American BookClub (www.johnsonpce. com) and the BET Weekend Bookclub (www. msbet. com) are also rousing the trend. If you’re thinking about jumping on the “book” wagon, consider the following words of wisdom:

Organize your group.
You may want to post signs in churches and libraries, and visit area bookstores, which have resources for finding members and starting clubs. In addition, many owners are willing to form instore dubs, provide meeting space or offer dub discounts. Jessica Henderson Daniel, Ph.D., a psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston and founder of the 18-year-old Black Women’s Literary Society of Boston, began by inviting three people who each brought along a friend. Limit membership to no more than 15 people so that everyone can share their views. “If it gets too large,” cautions Daniel, “people begin to think they’re dispensable.”

Consider the setup.
Many members host monthly meetings in their homes. Discussions usually last one to two hours, with some time allotted for socializing and refreshments. “It’s convenient, cozy and comfortable, and there are no outside distractions,” says Emma Rodgers, co-owner of the Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas. Blanche Richardson, whose family owns the Oakland and San Francisco-based Marcus Bookstores, hosts several dubs at both book stores. Members pay $25 annual dues to cover expenses including newsletters, photocopying, postage and refreshments. Every fourth meeting is held at a local restaurant, “and nobody has to worry about cleaning up or pot luck,” she says.

Select your books.
The club coordinator usually makes the first book selection, but “it’s important to choose a book that begs for discussion,” says Daniel. “Some clubs are organized for the year, while others wait to see what’s coming out,” says Rodgers. She encourages clubs to make advance selections to ensure an ample supply of books.

Start your discussion.
The club coordinator takes charge of the first meeting, then members take turns choosing books, leading the discussion and hosting meetings. “The host is responsible for keeping everyone on track and not letting the discussion veer off,” says Felecia Wintons, owner of Books for Thought in Tampa, Florida. Members of Wintons’ group often create simple games or crossword puzzles based on the story’s elements to get everyone talking.

“The most important thing we stress is that everyone’s opinion is of value,” says Richardson. “Don’t pressure anyone into participating, or they won’t come back,” she warns. At the same time, “be mindful of

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