How to Start a Jewish-Themed Book Club

Have you been sending book recommendations to friends? Are there books that you can't wait to talk about? Or do you want some social time to relax and think about something entirely separate from regular life? That’s what a book club is for! Whether virtual or in-person, book clubs now are continuing to do what book clubs do—give people a reason to come together to read and discuss, question, and enjoy books in ways that are largely the same as always, even if it’s over Zoom. 

So, the first thing to think about when starting a book club is WHY. Why do you want to start a book club, and what do you want to get out of it? Is this book club meant to be educational or social? Do you want to build community or provide programs for your members? Maybe you want to start a book club to meet new friends, attract new members, or explore new books you haven’t read before. Of course, a book club can--and probably should(!)--be a mix of all these elements. Knowing your goal for the book group will help you make decisions that go along with setting one up. 

You can find a complete guide to starting a book club on Jewish Book Council’s website, but the most basic questions to answer are:

  • Where will you meet and how often? 
  • How will books be selected? 
  • What type of books will you read? 
  • Who will facilitate each session? 
  • Who will host each session? 

Here are a few tips and words of advice:

  • In the beginning, at least, choose books that provide discussion questions to save yourself a bit of time and energy. You can always add your own, but if the book provides questions, you have them available for backup. 
  • Always have at least 8 questions ready before your book club begins to prevent any awkward lag in conversation. 
  • Set a menu! Include themed food or signature cocktails tied to the book, appetizers, and wine, bagels brunch with mimosas, or whatever it is that your group is interested in. Whether everyone makes their own and eats at home for a virtual book club or if it’s an in-person spread or potluck, everyone looks forward to the snacks, even if they didn’t like the book!
  •  Think of fun additions to make your book club experience even more interactive, such as book-to-movie screenings, at-home activities, etc. 
  • Consider inviting the author in for part of your conversation (Jewish Book Club’s Live Chat program might be helpful here). 
  • Figure out if the group wants to stick to "book talk" or if it is acceptable to have small talk and tangents. If the goal is social time or community building, time to chat is important! It sounds silly, but this can be a thorny issue. 
  • If meeting virtually, everyone should probably remain on mute unless speaking to avoid unnecessary background noise. Decide how someone gets a chance to speak -- piping in or raising a hand?
  • Decide in advance how long your conversation will be and let everyone know what to expect. 

And, most importantly, find excellent books to read through the Jewish Book Council (JBC)! There are monthly book club picks, individual book guides that you can download for free, annual reading selection guides, a searchable database of thousands of books, including books with discussion questions or books around a particular theme. You can also check out authors’ recommended reading lists on PB Daily or JBC’s own reading lists.

Wishing you much success and great reading!

Miri is the Associate Director of the Jewish Book Council. She works to develop resources to serve book club readers better. 

Published: 4/02/2021

Categories: Our Jewish Life, Arts & Culture