The Seward Book Club discussed its first book in September 2002. When we began, most members lived in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis; we now have members in Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods and St. Paul. We currently have 11 members. We have no limit on genre: we read fiction, non-fiction, bio- and autobiography, memoir, short-stories, current affairs and (so far just theoretically) poetry.
We meet on the 4th Monday of every month. We have found that keeping the dates set, and not shifting the date to accommodate individual schedules, is the best approach for maintaining attendance. We take turns hosting meetings in our homes, although it's not required that a member ever host. Hosts reliably provide fabulously delicious snacks.
After some experimentation with book-picking methods in our early years, we've arrived at a system of picking all of the books for a coming year at our October meeting. Members bring two or three books to "pitch". We take turns describing the books we've brought and why we are suggesting them. The group then votes on the pitched books. Each member gets a batch of votes; we typically give 40 votes, represented by pennies. We lay the pitched books around the room. We vote by putting our pennies in the covers of our choices, putting as many pennies on each selection as we'd like. We then count the pennies for each book. The top 11 vote-getters are our books for the coming year. When there are several books "on the bubble", we have run-off voting amongst those books.
Some years, we choose to limit the selections in some respect. In our 2008-2009 year, we required that all selections be winners of a book award. In our 2008-09 and 2009-10 years, we set one slot for a classic. In our 2009-2010 year, we set one slot for a classic, three slots for award winners and nominees, and left the remaining slots open. In recent years, we've settled on dedicating one slot to a classic.
We then arrange the selected books in an order for the year, with consideration to book length (e.g. we sandwich longer books between shorter books), type of book (e.g. we would probably split up non-fiction books), season, etc. When we're done, we know which books we'll read in each month of the year.
We have found that this method of book selection offers many advantages:
- By filling the slate for the year, members can read ahead if they wish, and can easily make arrangements to get books from the library.
- By having the group weigh in on all selections, we are ALL responsible for picking a book we don't like.
- Book-picking night is a hoot.
Yes, we really do discuss the books at our meetings. As the years have gone on, though, friendships have been forged and it now requires some prodding to move from the eating/chatting start of the evening to the book discussion part. Still, we spend an hour or two focused on the book.
Since our 2005-06 year, we have conducted surveys at the end of each year to gauge members' response to our books and to the quality of our discussions about the books. Playing with this data, we can generate a ranking of all of our books by popularity, and keep tabs on various other metrics, just for the fun of it.