Book Club Prep


Are you a member of a book club? If so, you may wonder if your book club is representative of the many, many book clubs that thrive in so many venues and so many communities throughout the U.S. and the world. If you are not yet fortunate enough to be part of a book club, you might have wondered what exactly occurs.

To book club members who are curious about other clubs, to book club wannabes, and, especially, to members of the Nonfiction Book Club I’m attending tomorrow, here’s a sneak preview of what to expect.

Our book club protocol

In our book club, members arrive promptly, since the room typically is full with 20 or so serious readers gathered around a large conference table in our town’s library. Club membership is exclusive, only in the sense that we are serious readers. We each attend voluntarily and welcome whoever walks in the door. Often first-timers become regulars.

We select our books for the coming year in December, and, at each month’s meeting, the library provides copies of the book for the following month, which we check out and begin to read. Club members take turns leading the discussion and do so willingly (or with a gentle nudge). Each month’s leader brings a unique, personal style to the table. What all share is a commitment to creating an atmosphere that is respectful. We talk and we listen. We explore many facets of a book and we learn.

Our book for this month is The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. It will be my pleasure (truly!) to lead tomorrow’s discussion, since I loved, loved, loved this book.

Here’s what I have in mind:

Greet everyone who walks in the door—the regulars and the newbies. Be sure that everyone has a nametag, a copy of the year’s schedule, and “Talking About Nonfiction Books”—a discussion sheet that club members assembled over time.

Kick off the discussion with a brief introduction (my name, length of time with the book club, interests, and so forth) and ask others to do the same. As part of their introductions, ask them to share a few aspects of the book that they want to discuss.

With pencil (yes, always a pencil with an eraser) in hand, I circle items on the discussion sheet that we should cover during our time together and scribble notes. For me, this sheet, with everyone’s input noted, guides the give-and-take that ensues.

I then let people talk. Let them ask. Let them discuss. Let them argue (amicably). The task is to simply herd the cats.

My two cents

Every now and then, I throw in my two cents.

Related to the author, Michael Pollan, did I find his plant’s-eye view of the world credible? Yes. The many sources referenced in the book, both primary and secondary, tell me that he learned an enormous amount in order to write:

Chapter 1 Desire: Sweetness / Plant: The Apple

Chapter 2 Desire: Beauty / Plant: The Tulip

Chapter 3 Desire: Intoxication / Plant: Marijuana

Chapter 4 Desire: Control / The Potato

Beyond the research, Pollan himself is a gardener who digs in and gets his hands messy. In The Botany of Desire-A Plants: Eye View of the World, he has unearthed truths about the co-evolution of plants and humans.

What I most loved about the book was the artistry in which Pollan plied his craft. The language, the metaphors, the meanderings made this a joyful read.

The discussion sheet asks, “Would you read other books on the subject, by this author, in this genre?” Yes, yes, yes.

At some point, I will ask, “If you were to write Chapter 5, what desire and plant would you add?”


Our discussion tomorrow will be open to a variety of voices, which is sure to enrich the human crop gathered at the table. I can hardly wait.

Your turn…

Tell us about your book club. Where do you meet? What do your read? Who attends? What is the best part for you—reading, discussing, something else?


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