How to Manage Member Issues in Your Book Club

A group of people sitting in a circle in a coffee shop holding books

The friendships made in a book club can be magical, but that doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes bump heads with a fellow member. Here we take a look at common problems that clubs have regarding member behavior and offer solutions on how to get your group back on track.

 

The Problem: A member always takes the group off-topic.

The Solution: It’s not uncommon for members to want to chat about non-book topics when they get together. The best way to combat off-topic chatter is to have a designated time for it built into your plans. Invite anyone who wants to catch up to come thirty minutes early or stay thirty minutes late so friends can still talk, but everyone will know that once the meeting starts it’s time to keep the discussion to books.

 

The Problem: One member dominates the group conversation.

The Solution: Having a discussion leader can help to solve a lot of meeting issues. This leader can help guide and moderate the discussion to keep everyone on track, while still participating themselves. If your group prefers not to have a discussion leader, consider starting by going around to give everyone a chance to speak on their thoughts.

There are also many phrases that a discussion leader or fellow members can use to re-engage the rest of the group in conversation when one member is dominating the meeting. Try:

– “What you’re saying reminds me of [other member]’s comment from earlier. [Other member] can you say more about that?”

– “I love the questions you’re asking. What does the rest of the group think?”

– “I’m noticing we’re nearing the end of our time and I want to make sure everyone gets their final comments in. [Other member] do you have anything on your mind?”

You can also always speak to your chatty member privately. Consider saying something like,  “I love the excitement you bring to our meetings and how prepared you come with thoughts about what we’ve read. I want to make sure all of our members have that same opportunity to share, but I notice our less outgoing members aren’t speaking up as much. Can you help me engage with them?” This conversation creates a partnership and won’t leave your chatty friend feeling attacked.

 

The Problem: A member is making other members uncomfortable.

The Solution: The solution to this problem depends on the situation, but having an official set of rules everyone agrees to before joining can help ensure meetings are kept safe and comfortable for everyone. These are also easy to reference in private conversations with any members who break the rules.

It’s helpful to decide how many chances members should be given if they break the rules and what rules result in immediate expulsion from the group. For example, a member who spoils a book’s ending before the discussion date can be given a polite reminder about the rules. However, if a member is harassing another member or making racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist comments—they’re ensuring that the book club is no longer a space where other members will feel safe to simply be themselves. This is an instance that could be spelled out in the rules as warranting removal from the group.

 

The Problem: One member acts as though their opinion is the only correct one.

The Solution: People communicate in different ways and sometimes those communication styles clash and can lead to unintended conflict. This member may not realize that when they share an opinion, it’s phrased in a way that sounds like they’re stating an absolute truth. This can make other members uncomfortable, especially if they have a different point of view.

Consider discussing guidelines and best practices around book club conversations with your group. This can include respecting others’ opinions and staying conscious about the language used when sharing thoughts. 

If this member continues to frame commentary in this way, it’s easy to remind everyone in the group that it’s one person’s opinion through phrases like, “That’s an interesting point of view. Does anyone have a different one?” or “It’s fascinating you read it that way. I took away a different understanding of that passage.”

 

The Problem: A member never contributes to the group potluck.

The Solution: It’s easy to make assumptions about a member’s behavior, but there could be a variety of reasons why they aren’t able to contribute. Consider having a private conversation with them to better understand where they’re coming from.

It could be that they don’t have time to make something before the meeting. If your group currently has a relaxed approach to meeting potlucks, consider officially assigning items to everyone and making sure this member is assigned something like wine or cheese that doesn’t need to be prepared. This solution also works if the member seems like they had been enjoying taking advantage of the fruits of others’ labors without contributing themselves.

If the reasons are financial, it seems safe to assume that their friendship and presence is more valuable than any snack tray they could bring. If they’d like to contribute in a way that won’t add much burden or stress, affordable items like napkins or crackers are always needed!

 

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Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

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