Running a reading group

A reading group is a group of people who meet regularly to discuss books they have all been reading

They range from a few friends to more organised groups set up in libraries and bookshops who advertise for members – they should be relaxed and informal and above all fun.

Length of meetings

It’s probably best to allow at least one/one and a half hours for your discussion.

You may decide to read a certain genre eg. crime, concentrate on more literary novels or just choose a wide variety of books.


Around six to ten seems to work well – if you have too many people not everyone gets a say and shyer members may feel inhibited. Too few and it’s hard to get a range of views on which to base an interesting discussion but more than ten or twelve people can make a discussion hard to handle. The most important thing is that group members feel comfortable with each other.

Setting a group up

If you start with one or two friends they may invite others to join. However there are advantages to setting up from scratch with people you don’t know as you are more likely to be introduced to books which are new to you. You might decide to put up a notice in your local library to find others who are interested.

The first meeting

If you are taking the initiative to form a reading group you will also be the one who organises the first meeting. If you don’t know each other you may be more comfortable meeting in a public place rather than your own home.

If you agree what kind of group it will be straight from the beginning then no-one will be unhappy with the way it progresses. Don’t worry if a couple of people don’t come back after the first one – that means the format wasn’t for them. You will get others along the way.

The best way to start is to ask the members what they want to get out of the group – go round the table to get everyone talking. Do they just want to exchange opinions about the story or do an in depth analysis of the text, are people happy for members to attend if they haven’t had time to read the book?

Where to meet

Lots of groups meet in people’s homes, each member taking a turn to host the evening. However it is important to make sure this doesn’t turn into a competition to provide the best catering as some members may not be comfortable with that. Other groups prefer to meet in a restaurant or bar so that food and drink is easily available and no-one has to cope with the clearing up afterwards. You may be able to meet in your local library or hire a room in a village hall or even the local pub.

One thing to bear in mind is refreshments, as a glass of wine may help members to relax and open up – you could ask for contributions or turn it into a bring a bottle/food meeting.

When to meet

Most groups seem to meet once a month or perhaps every six weeks – this will give people long enough to read the book, any longer and they may lose their enthusiasm.

Time of day very much depends on the venue and when members of the group are available. The key thing is to keep things regular, place, time and dates.

Never leave one meeting without planning the next meeting – it can help to plan several dates in advance and give out a list of dates and books to all members. It’s a good idea to have a list of everyone’s names and phone numbers so that members can be informed of any changes to arrangements.

Choosing books

The easiest way is for each member to take a turn in suggesting a title and introducing it to the group – If you meet in different homes this could be the host/hostess. If you find it difficult at the beginning you could:

  • start with books that have won prizes
  • read around a theme eg. novels about Europe, food, water, war, journeys, childhood
  • read different novels by the same author and then compare them
  • read two books to keep a discussion going in case one turns out to be unpopular or hard to talk about
  • read the novels of an author giving a talk at your local library and follow this up with a group visit to the event

Some groups plan a whole programme whilst others choose at each meeting. Planning the entire programme means that members who want to read ahead can do so. The key criteria is that the books you choose should encourage debate and discussion.

Hampshire Library Service has a collection of reading group sets that you can choose from. Most sets have 10 copies of a title and, if available, we can also supply up to 2 large print / spoken word editions for use by group members who have difficulty reading print due to sight loss or other conditions. Some titles are very popular and will need to be reserved well in advance of your meeting. You can book a set up to 12 months in advance.

Leading a group

Most reading groups appoint a member to lead meetings to give some structure to the discussion. The responsibility can be shared by host/hostess/person choosing the book. It is important to decide this well in advance so that he or she can prepare and that the burden does not always fall on the same person. You could give people different roles within each meeting (doing the research/starting the questions/providing the wine/choosing the next book etc.)

It can seem daunting to lead a group but it’s really a case of getting the discussion going and making sure everyone, who wants to, has a chance to say something.

You may feel more comfortable leading the discussion if you have prepared a list of points as you read the book, noting its main themes, characters, or significant passages. It can help to begin by reading sections out loud– this will help focus the group ...but keep it short!

It does help to do research before the meeting eg print off the author’s website/other reviews so that if there is a lull in the conversation you can give them more information about the novel which may spark off further discussion – this is one of the things you could ask different members to do each time

You could start the discussion by asking the person who chose the book to introduce it (no lengthy plot summaries) and say why he or she thought it was special, then ask each of the members what they thought of it.

Round the table questions are a useful way of getting quieter members to say something, if they want to, without pushing themselves forward. Questions should be open ended eg. “what did you think of the book” so that answering yes or no is not enough – also try to get people to explain their reactions If they didn’t like the book ask them to explain why – was it the characters or writers style they didn’t like?

Common problems are the person who wants to dominate the conversation and the one or two who tend to sit in silence. Look out for someone who is desperate to say something but can’t seem to find a gap in the conversation - but avoid pushing shyer members into the spotlight.

Opinions may differ radically but there no rights and wrongs – everyone’s opinion of the book is equally valid.

If conversation founders, when discussion of the book has been exhausted, you could ask the group what other books they have read since the last meeting.