September 2002

Jessa Crispin


Start Your Own Slutty Book Group

Book groups are tricky things. Personally I have been in several, never satisfied with one long enough to continue. If you are as picky as I am, it may help to begin your own group. It's not as difficult as you may think.

1. Decide on parameters.
What kind of books will you want to read? If you need a kick in the ass to get around to the Big Important Books, consider a moral support group to attempt tackling books like Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow. Having a theme will be important when someone you don't know joins and wants to read Kaye Gibbons. With a theme you can just say, "Sorry, but this is the Angry White Males book group. The Oprah group meets at Barnes and Noble."

2. Find like-minded readers.
Of course hit up all of your friends, but I've got to warn you. Your friends are the first to join in and the first to stop showing up. It's best to advertise. Your local free alternative weekly should have an appropriate section to list your group. Put up signs at independent bookstores and anarchist coffee shops. Go online. There are a dozen message boards both local and book related that you can post your information on. When searching for members, however, be sure to mention the theme.

3. Clean your apartment.
There are perks to holding your group at a bookstore - free advertising, sometimes free coffee, book discounts - but it'll be cozier, quieter, and more under your control at home. There won't be time constraints, you can serve food and alcohol (see below), and you can play the Velvet Underground.

4. Fire up your oven.
Make your group a potluck. If a person swears they just can't cook, make them bring wine instead. But if you can cook, make something amazing. My favorite book group was barely book related, but I always ate well and drank excessively. It kept me coming back, even to the meetings for books I couldn't finish. I'm not suggesting pork chops with a red wine-miso sauce, but a fantastic tomato-green pepper salad with white wine vinegar dressing, or feta cheese dip, or hell, cookies. And make sure there is always a large amount of wine on hand. Don't feel the need to drop $50 on the wine and food. Admit you're broke to the wine guy and have him find a decent $5-7 bottle for you.

5. Be flexible.
Don't be the person who clears their throat every time the topic swings off of the book. It's not just about the book. It's about being social. There is only so much you can say about some books anyway. Also be flexible about the meeting time. There is an excuse for every day of the week. It's hard to motivate yourself out of the house on Mondays. Tuesdays have Kiefer on 24. Etc. Find middle ground and be willing to change days or weeks when people are busy.

6. Find another host.
If you host every month, you'll drive yourself crazy. Make sure everyone knows they should take turns hosting. Otherwise, after six months you'll be suggesting your group start meeting at Borders. It will probably happen that the person who wants to host all the time will live 20 miles outside of town on an unlit, unmarked road. Don't let her host very often.

There are many other issues in the setting up of a book group, like who gets to choose the next book, or can we put a ban on Oprah books ever being read, but those should be decided on at your first meeting. Good luck with your group and, if you form one, let me know how it goes.