In 2008, I fell in love with Jane Austen. In 2011 I had the pleasure of visiting the house where she grew up, in Chawton Village, England, followed by the experience of visiting Winchester Cathedral where she is buried. 2011 was also the year I set a personal goal for myself to read all 6 of Jane Austen’s novels (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, NorthHanger Abbey and Mansfield Park). I decided I would start my own Jane Austen Book club. In the end, it was a wonderful experience; four lovely ladies joined me for monthly meetings held over dinner at favorite restaurants with each meeting having a different Jane Austen novel to discuss. I met my goal to read all her novels and made new, lasting friendships.
I wanted to inspire you to start your own Jane Austen Book Club by sharing with you how easy it was to start mine. While there are many ways to start and run a book club, I wanted to keep things simple: No officers, no minutes, no bureaucracy–just women with a love of Austen getting together and discussing something other than children, families or laundry. Here is how I did mine; I hope you are inspired to start your own!
My JABC met once a month. At the first meeting, we all picked our novel to be responsible for (the minimum obligation was to read just one of her novels–the one you picked at the first meeting– but most of the members chose to read all). When it was time for “your novel” to be discussed, you helped and/or led the group discussions. I encouraged my friends who may or may not have time in a given month to get the novel read to view one of the movie versions so they could follow along and still contribute.
Hint~~As the founder, it will be your responsibility to make sure all opinions are heard and respected, to keep people on topic (the book at hand and not drift into family life, children or relationships) and to make sure everyone has ample opportunity to participate. Sometimes that will mean kindly helping a long winded person to “wrap up” or asking lead questions to help shy members open up.
My JABC met at a different restaurant or cafe each month. I made a hard and unyielding rule of no children and so that meant my house was out! Some book clubs have their members take turns hosting the meeting each month. This is a nice way to do it also, but does not work so well if any of the members are still raising small children. I picked middle range cafes/restaurants that offered lots of choices from snacks to full meals to accommodate everyone’s needs and pocketbooks.
Hint~~we met on a Friday night. For my JABC this was a night that no one had early obligations the next day and one of my members who was driving in from a few hours away could hook the meeting date onto an overnight visit with her daughter who lived locally and no one had to miss work. If I chose a cafe/restaurant that tended to be popular, it was my responsibility to make the reservation for us.
I collected $20 in dues at the first meeting. In return, my members received a gift bag that included a Jane Austen themed journal they could use for writing notes, a pen, and a stack of vintage style mini post its. While not necessary, handing these out at the first meeting got everyone excited about the club and reading that first book.
I sent out an email to everyone I know and also put up fliers at the local bookstores and the local library. Oddly enough, I found my two most active participants, a mother and daughter, through an advertisement I had decided at the last minute to put on Craigslist. I had one new member join midway through, and others drop as time went on. You will have to decide at the beginning that you don’t care how many people show up. As long as one other Austen lover shows, you will have a fabulous book discussion.
Hint~~ I always sent out the meeting date/time 3 weeks in advance and would send everyone a reminder text or email the week of. We would spend the first 15-20 minutes “catching up” on personal tidbits, and then start discussing the book of that month.
I wanted my members to look forward to book club so that if something came up mid month they would not want to ditch JABC but rather respond “I can’t do that…I have book club!” with a smile and anticipation on their face 😉 So, each month I brought my stack of English home magazines to the meetings and let members swap them out for a different issue to take home. Turns out, I am told this was some member’s favorite part. I also sent a set of study questions and other points of interest links from the web to the members at various times to do with what they chose. In the end, I allowed them to decide their level of participation.
Hint~~the Internet is a great resource. I was able to find discussion questions on the PBS website for all the Jane Austen novels that I would send to member before hand and we would often use these to lead our discussions!
My JABC started in June, after tax season, so my own Mr. Darcy would be available to be home with our children while I was at book club, and concluded that same year in December with our last meeting. That last meeting was held at a local tea house and was also by lovely coincidence, allowed us to celebrate it being Jane Austen’s birthday month. Meeting June-Dec allowed us a one month buffer in case there was a cancellation and still enabled us to get through all 6 of her novels prior to our ending date.
Hint~~ At the last meeting, you can see if there is a different author everyone would be interested in doing the following year. Or you can do a favorites book club, where each person gets to pick one book (their favorite) of any genre, or of one decided upon genre, that each member reads. I always thought that reading through one of the series of Pride and Prejudice spin off-series (like The Pemberley Chronicles would be a wonderful book club idea to follow a JABC!)
I hope this has shown you how easy it is to start your own book club, and perhaps inspired you to start one of your own. A book club is a wonderful way to learn more about an author, time period, or subject. It is also a wonderful way to make new friends and get some quality adult/me/intellectual time into your schedule. I found it was wonderful way to make new friends in addition to giving much needed face-time to some current friendships.