So, you want to start a book club?

Library book clubs are a great way to get patron involved with the reading process. Book clubs can serve as social, intellectual, or community building groups of people who share a common interest. Very often, that common interest dictates a theme which all the books you read will have in common. Perhaps it’s a gender, genre, age, or writing style; while a theme is important, having active participation is key to any successful book club.

Ginny, "Untitled" from Flickr, taken 24 September 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0
Ginny, “Untitled” from Flickr, taken 24 September 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0

Graphic novels and comic books make great book club groups because there are a lot of things you can talk about:

  1. Discuss the writing style

-What is the balance between the narrative and dialogue?
-Does the author use any narrative tropes (metaphors, analogies, foreshadowing, etc.)
-How many words are there compared to illustrations telling the story?

  1. Talk about the artistic style

-Many people don’t know that art is sketched, inked, colored, and lettered by different people. Discuss how
this effects the book’s presentation.
-How much of the story is told solely through the illustrations?
-Is color used to convey emotion?

  1. Discuss the type of graphic novel

-Is this a serialized comic book in bound form? A standalone graphic novel?
-How does the format change the story?

  1. What are the larger themes? Many comics and graphic novels tackle issues like race, war, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, globalization and environmental issues.

However, before you get your first meeting, you have to set a few ground rules. These rules will help to narrow the scope and breadth of your group.

Age Group
While “all age” comics are making a comeback as of late, it is still important to select a target age group. If you read books like “Saga,” “The Watchmen,” “Batman: the Killing Joke,” or any Vertigo titles, you’ll want to make it clear that there are mature themes and that the book club is intended for mature audiences (this is the same problem libraries run into in regards to shelving books in the teen or adult sections). The book club I run started off as an 18+, mature audience only group and we gradually morphed into a “books may have mature themes, parental discretion advised”. It is perfectly ok (not to mention normal) for aspects of your book club to change as you get to know your members and their reading habits, better.

Sub-Genres & Themes
Since comic books are so diverse, it can be easy to say that you only read science fiction, fantasy, independent, non-fiction or superhero books. You can also pick books about social or personal issues, mysteries, or dramas. The comic book world has become so diverse in the past five years that it is easy to find multiple titles with the same sub-genre or theme.

How often will your group meet? If you read a monthly comic issues-by-issues, meeting monthly makes sense. If you are trade watching, maybe you read two trades and meet when they are released. Monthly meetings tend to work very well for most book clubs.

Picking Books
For this one, you really need to get to know your group and what they want to read. My book club votes on five titles with a central theme each month. One month, I took group members suggestions and put them on the ballot, but they didn’t like it. They felt they could only suggest books they have read, and they wanted to read books which they’ve never read before.

Put these rules and discussion points into a pot, let simmer, and you have the recipe for a wonderful book club.

For more ideas about how to start, and maintain book clubs, check out the following websites:

Lit Lovers
Reading Group Choices
ALA Book Discussion Groups
GoodReads Graphic Novel Book Club