"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
March 14, 2013
How to Run a Book Group
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I've recently been put in charge of a book group. I’m fine with that because I love to read, but many of the women in the group have extensive advice for me about how the group should be run. And half of the advice contradicts the other half.

Do you have any ideas on how to properly run a book group?


A book group exists for two reasons. One, to read and discuss excellent books. Two, to spend a pleasant couple of hours with people you like and find interesting.

You are on your own when it comes to selecting group members who share your taste in books.

But I do have four suggestions for the other aspects of your book group. Please note that I did not invent these rules. I just think they’re brilliant.

One: Someone has to be in charge.

A book group simply must have a person who schedules the meetings, manages the rules, communicates with the members, and reminds people when they are in charge of hosting, treats, and the monthly discussion.

This is you! Congratulations! Stay on top of things, and project a sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm for your group. Since you have received conflicting opinions from the group about how to run things, use your best judgment and propose your own rules.

Two: Vote on what to read.

A book group only thrives if the members read the books. But once the initial enthusiasm for the group wanes, members only read the books if they are interested in them. The best way to promote consistent reading and interest in the books is to vote on what to read.

Here is how to do it: Each member can bring up to a set number of books to propose (say, three). She describes each book to the group and explains why she thinks the other members will enjoy it. If she feels the content may be controversial, she should say so to avoid unpleasant surprises. (It’s better for the group to vote against a book than to show up with an earful for the poor member who proposed it.)

Once each member has presented her books, a secret ballot is made. Each member gives each book between zero and three points, depending on how much she wants to read it. The ballots are collected and the group leader tallies the votes after the meeting. The top vote-getters are the books you read for the next year. The group leader then makes a schedule, varying fiction and nonfiction, long and short, from month to month. She then sends the schedule to the group members.

Not everyone’s books will be selected. So remind the group not to feel hurt if their books are not chosen this time around. But everyone will get to read at least some books that she is interested in reading.

Three: The person who suggests a book must have read it all the way through!

If you take one thing from this column, take this rule! It promotes the selection of excellent, interesting books because at least one person liked the book well enough to read it again. It weeds out books that look promising, but have crummy endings, stupid plot development, intolerable inconsistencies, tortured writing, and lame allegories.

It also screens books for scenes, themes, or language that are offensive to the members of the book group. Reasonable people can differ on what is appropriate, but you won’t know what’s in it unless you read it first.

Four: Book group should not be discussed at church.

Unless your book group is an official Relief Society activity, it should not be discussed at church or with people who are not in the book group. This is simple good manners. It is rude to discuss events and groups in front of people who have not been invited to join.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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