7 Ways to Kill a Book Club

Doomed book club

Books clubs are an awesome idea. People you find awesome? Books you find awesome? Eating and drinking things that are awesome? Combining all of this into a single evening? Officially too much awesome. But let’s face it—it’s far, far more common for book clubs to implode or, more often, to fade away quietly into the ether, than to last for eons.

I’ve been a member of no fewer than eight hundred book clubs, and all have ultimately failed—except for the one I have with my family, which still functions only because I can’t quietly avoid my family indefinitely. I mean, I could—but then I’d run the risk of having the police knock down my door when I failed to call back my mom after two hours. But we can’t all be lucky enough to be in book clubs with people genetically obligated to not ignore us. Here are 7 likely reasons your book club crashed and burned:

1. Bad snacks. Sure, you can fool yourself into thinking your book club is all about the scintillating conversations, but the long and short of it is, people might come for the Austen, but they stay for the potato skins. A couple of stale saltines will not cut it where a book club is concerned.

2. Netflix. You’ve had that copy of Angela’s Ashes sitting on your nightstand since the day it was chosen. And while this tale of impoverished Irish survivors sounds super-compelling, you’re having a hard time pulling yourself away from the equally compelling prison drama Orange is the New Black. The TV will wait—read the book, dude.

3. Fight club. Your book club didn’t die, it evolved, from a casual, sophisticated get-together, to a bare-knuckled, shin-kicking, shirts-optional brawl. Learning is a critical pursuit—but so is ass-kicking. Chuck Palahniuk would absolutely agree.

4. Technology. It started off as a laid-back discussion on the merits of your NOOK versus the merits of his paperback. It ended with words like “philistine” and “technophobe” being bandied about. Is your book club dead, exactly? No. But its members are no longer on speaking terms.

5. The weather. Everyone had the best of intentions. They did their homework, they bought a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine, they showed up on time with a list of discussion questions. Then, the unthinkable: the host’s home doesn’t have AC. After a few minutes of frantic Google searching, it’s discovered that the book’s film adaptation is playing down the street in a very, very air conditioned theatre. Plans are made to discuss the book AND movie as soon as the temperature is not quite so murder-y in nature.

6. Excellent snacks. There’s a thin line between love and hate. There’s also a thin line between leftover Chex Mix and your grandmother’s famous homemade cheesecake, paired with a strawberry cream sauce. Everyone is all, “I think the protagonist is….I’m sorry, but can we talk about the cheesecake again for just a second? Because I CAN’T EVEN.” Then everyone squeals, more cake is eaten, and the protagonist’s aims are forgotten entirely.

7.  Bees. “I’m so glad everyone could make it! I don’t know about you, but I’m having A LOT of feelings in regard to this week’s tex—OH MY GOD THERE ARE BEES, BEES EVERYONE! SAVE YOURSELVES! OH THE BOOK-MANITY! EPI PENS FOR EVERYONE! AHHHHHHH.” Enough said.

Why did your book club break up?

  • Cheminne T-S

    You forgot the #1 reason most book clubs break up – although you skirted close to it. Because no one discusses the book! You have 2 or 3 that show up excited to talk about the characters and plot, and the rest spend an hour talking about day care and how expensive babysitting has gotten. That’s called a Mother’s Group, not a book club.

    • Heather P

      Yes! This was my experience exactly! All they ever talked about was their experiences with childbirth, and since I’ve never had a kid I never had anything to contribute. Plus, horrifying stories. Ugh.

    • Cynthia Washburn

      Not just that, but we’d have people come who didn’t read the book, never read the book for that month, and never planned to read the book – obviously, they weren’t interested in talking about the book and would sidetrack all book-related conversation. The only non-sucky meeting that we ever had was one where the author attended, so we HAD to talk about the book.

      I don’t mind reading books that I wouldn’t have already read (except the Da Vinci Code, that was painful), but having to read them and then not even talking about them? No.

  • Marci Yesowitch Hopkins

    No one can agree on what books to read. Do you read something that one member has read and approved? Do you switch off who gets to pick? Do you vote? What happens when you think your tastes are similar, but you discover you hate every book picked. Even trying to pick from a book club list can fail you.

    • jburke

      Our usual rule is that the book has to be something no one has read before. That way it is surprise to everyone. And we try to switch off. For a while we taking turns and I think we will go back to that. Sometimes 2 or 3 people bring choices and we pick from those. And you can hit a series of unpopular books – it can happen. We have read lots of books by the same author (one we liked) and that can sometimes break the run of bad choices.

    • Michaela Williams

      Whoever is hosting the next book club, since we host in our homes someone who hasn’t gone in a while will volunteer, brings 3-4 books they have pre-screened and then we vote. I like it because everyone has input and when it’s my turn I choose 3 books I was going to read either way :)

  • Amy Lamoureux Courville

    People’s schedules are just too crazy! That’s why our book group continues to struggle….

  • Cindy Moore Lanning

    We held together a very successful book club from 1992 – 2011. It has fallen in membership due to life changes, moves and lack of interest. There are still a few members left. As a founding member, I truly enjoyed the companionship of fellow readers as well as the opportunity to read outside my comfort zone. My advice to anyone thinking about starting such a club would be to vet the new members carefully and have a good proceedure in place for your selections. There is another club in our community that has been in existence for as long, if not longer and is going 30 members strong with a waiting list!

    As an aside: the son of one of our members once was overheard telling a friend that we were really a drinking group with a reading problem!

  • MN Girl

    Our book club is dying because the leader only picks the books she wants to read. We can only read so many books about memory loss and world war 2 before we all want to chuck ourselves in front of a bus.

    • jburke

      Perhaps you need to change how the books are picked so that the subject matter changes.

  • Misha

    We take turns picking a book each month, BUT we all inwardly groan when someone picks a book that is too long! (the last book was over 800 pages…) That takes way too long for busy people to read in a month – even two.

    • jburke

      In our group we have the same problem with long books (sometimes we just give ourselves more time to read it by scheduling it for 2 months out.

  • Tom Fusco

    Book clubs don’t die, they evolve. We’ve watched each others’ kids grow up, mourned together when one member died, celebrated together when another got married. Oh yeah, we read books; sometimes even discussed them. But it evolved into true friendship.

    • jburke

      That is so wondeful to hear!!

  • jburke

    I have been in a book club for over 20 years. We started out meeting in each others homes, once a month on a weekday morning. We all had young children and the hostess provided food, coffee, tea and a place for the kids to play. Eventually we evolved to meeting a restaurant and usually without children. The big thing that we do is spread the picking of the next book around, so that everyone gets a chance. Some members prefer novels, others mysteries and others science fiction. We do discuss the book and find that the best discussions usually occur when not everyone liked the book. The thing I like about Book Club is that it gets me to read out of my comfort zone. I am introduced to writers that I never would have tried otherwise. We have lost members and gained members over the years which also makes the dynamic change.

  • Kara Rutledge

    These are really reasons book clubs failed? (Except # 2, which is valid.) If so, it seems the majority of the book clubs weren’t really book clubs to begin with. I belong to 2 different book clubs. We all discuss the book, but because we’ve known each other for a few years, we do end up talking about other things after the book discussion.

  • Heather Pollard

    Out book club meets at restaurants, and it works wonderfully!

    • Misha

      One of mine does too (I’m in two book clubs) I really like it. We usually meet at the same restaurant, so the waitstaff knows us and gives us a table in the back where we can laugh and talk loud without disturbing too many of their patrons.