by: Erica Glass, BSF Chapter Director
I think it’s pretty amazing when I see Mil Spouses connecting on a social level. People who would have never met, from different backgrounds, all getting together because they enjoy a specific hobby. Here at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) Alaska I see Mil Spouses connecting through hiking clubs, cross fit sessions, knitting socials, and so MUCH more. I decided to set my sights on all the JBER book lovers and started an Alaskan Blue Star Families book club. If you think starting a book club for Mil Spouses in your area might be a good idea I would love to share my five tips with you:
Location, Location, Location
The book clubs I have been a part of have ranged from a virtual setting to at a member’s home. There are so many pros and cons to all the options. With the virtual setting you can attend in your pajamas with members stationed all over the world, but the typing can get tedious. A slow typer like me would finally get her comment posted and they had already moved on to the next topic. Meeting at a member’s home can be a great option for those with young kids, but can be awkward if you aren’t good friends with the host. Or maybe their yapping Manchester Terrier will NOT leave you alone. True story.
I’d like to suggest looking into your local Starbucks. Most military bases now have a Starbucks Military Family Store very close to them. Starbucks has made a commitment to honor our military families and they would be thrilled if you considered them for your book club venue. Our local Starbucks Military Family Store even gives our book club one free coffee per member! And really, don’t coffee and books just go together?
Choosing the Monthly Book
Let’s say you have ten people wanting to join your book club. If you ask them all to decide on a book, you’ll get ten different responses from every genre. My advice to you as the host is to pick the first two or three month’s books yourself. By the third month you will have established a good relationship with the members and get a better idea of the direction you want it to go. Will you do a different genre every month? Or maybe you’ll specifically be a murder mystery book club? Perhaps your club only wants to do nonfiction? For my local club, we decided to be economical and do books available at the library or for $3.99 or less for Kindles/Nooks. Don’t let the low price tag fool you, there are some amazing Independent authors out there.
Create Conversation Starters
Nothing could be worse than going to a book club meeting where everyone just looks at each other and says “So, uh, did you like the book”? “Yes it was nice”. “Yeah, uh me too”. Cue the crickets. Your members will look to the host to get the discussion going. Before the meeting, create some questions that will spark the conversation. I do not mean college level essay questions, it’s not a test to see if they actually read every page. For example if you are doing a supernatural book, it might be fun to ask everyone what type of “creature” they would be, or what type of creature they think another member would be. Team Vampire or Team Werewolf?
Organization will help keep you and the group focused. I like to write down and bring my conversation starters to use as a guide. I also post the questions I am going to ask in our Facebook group beforehand so the members can already have some thoughts on the matter. You may also find that you’ll have a member that gets easily sidetracked and will talk about other things (their work day, their children, etc). It’s understandable that some questions might lead to those areas, so preemptively think of ways you can bring a conversation back to the book. Remember to glance at the time every so often as well if you’ve set an established end time for your meeting.
Find a Way to be Unique!
I really wanted our local book club meetings to be fun. What could I do to set this book club a part from others? I thought it might be cool to ask authors to make a small video for us. Just a small video giving a shout out to our book club along with a message like “thanks for checking out my book this month” or something to that effect. My hope was that it would appeal to them because it would only take one minute of the author’s time plus it wouldn’t cost them anything. What happened INSTEAD was that authors were happy to interact with me and they offered a video PLUS way more! One author donated 10 AUTOGRAPHED copies of her book. Another author mailed me a big box of cool swag (coffee cups, key chains, book marks, books and more). This was incredibly unexpected! Every member at the book club meeting gets to walk away with a little gift and we hold contests for any extra items. The generosity of the authors certainly make the meeting extra fun and unique, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them!
Have you ever been a part of a book club? What did you like or dislike? What are some of your ideas to be unique? Share in the comments!