Dubai needs more book clubs. The community interaction and intelligent discussion that can happen in small scale meetings are important building communities and encouraging the arts. But before this turns into a rant about the importance of book clubs (that’s another blog post), we’ll tell you how to start one. It more than just picking books to read every month!
Decide if your book club will be open or closed
An open book club is for anyone who wants to attend, whether you know them or not. A closed book club is invitation only. New members will have to be approved by the group or the book club organizer. There are pros and cons of each. If you want to meet new people and have the book club in a public place, start an open book club (ha, see what we did there?). If you don’t want all the work involved and just want to host it in your home with friends, then make it invitation only.
Choose a schedule
Pick a book club schedule and stick to it. Once a month allows everyone to read the book at their leisure. More than once a month is usually annoying. Weekday book clubs are likely to be poorly attended but you should make sure your Saturday book club isn’t too early (before 11:00 am) or too late (after 6:00 pm). It’s probably better to set a schedule that consistently works for you as the book club organizer than to poll all the potential members (you will get a bunch of different answers).
Choose a location
Some people in Dubai don’t travel out of their areas while others have no problem going from Jebel Ali to Al Nahda daily. One of the most important aspects of choosing your location is whether you want to leave your area or not. You can always set up the JLT Ladies Book Club and pick a hotel or cafe’ inside JLT to hold your book club discussions. Or, you can set up the book club and just hold the meetings in JLT. No matter which option you choose, be sure to scout at least 3 locations in the area you’re interested in. You want somewhere that’s relatively quiet on the day and time you intend to have the book club, serves coffee and tea (at least), and has enough setting for your group.
About finding a centralized location: there are no centralized locations in Dubai. Since the city is basically built in a series of straight lines, there’s really no nucleus. If you think Downtown Dubai/Burj Khalifa area is the middle, just ask someone from Dubai Marina or Al Nahda to come wait for the answer. It’s better to choose a location that is convenient for you as the organizer and people can choose to be involved or not. Do think about parking, though.
Be sure to talk to the manager about your group coming in. Just mention that you’d like to have meetings there regularly and your group will be spending money. In our experience, you will be welcomed as long as: 1) you don’t ask for permission (this is Dubai, the first answer will be no) and 2) you talk to the manager (regular staff will probably say no just because). Worst case scenario, show up, buy stuff, and talk books.
Think about your book club style
Is your book club going to be more literary or more bestseller? Will books be decided by participants the month before or will you choose for the next 3 or 4 months? To theme or not to theme? Fiction only or nonfiction as well?
If you’re not sure about all of this, then enlist a book loving friend as co-organizer to help you make the decisions. You could leave everything open until first meeting of the book club, but you are likely to get a lot of different answers and be no closer to making a decision.
Set up a site on Meetup.com
The absolute easiest way to create a central only hub for your book club is to start a meetup on Meetup.com. Not only is the cost of the site low, but Meetup.com will email everyone in the Dubai network about your new book club. The club will also be searchable only and on Meetup.com. You can create extra pages to track your reading list and manage the entire process of organizing events through this one site.
A warning, though, if you are starting an invitation only book club, don’t create a meetup. You will be constantly be fielding inquiries from people who want to join your book club but can’t. We don’t recommend setting up a Facebook page either, for the same reason. It’s better to have a Whatsapp group of book club friends than to wonder why people you don’t know are liking your book club facebook page.
Pick books that people can find in Dubai
However, you decide to choose the books for your book club (as the organizer or by popular vote) be sure they are books that people can actually buy in Dubai. We’ve seen so many book clubs and online book roundups from well-known magazines that recommend books that aren’t sold in Dubai. Sometimes, they aren’t even sold on Amazon. It is important to help with book discovery, but it’s frustrating for people to get excited about books then not be able to buy them in their local market.
Fortunately, this problem is easily solved. When you are picking the books to read, quickly check on Kinokuniya UAE’s website. Kinokuniya’s stock is reliable: if you find it online there’s a 90% chance they have it in the store. Just to be sure, also check Book Depository so that people can order to book to be sent them if they want a lower price and have more time.
Show up early the first day with a sign
We’ve gone to meetups where people circle each other for 30 minutes because no one knows what the organizer or any of the other participants look like. If you’ve set up a meetup page, you won’t know anyone’s mobile numbers either. Save yourself the dance and print a simple sign for your book club so people can find you. Since people will come and go from the club, bring it and post it every time. Who knows, other people in the same cafe’ may decide to join the next month because they saw the sign. And whatever you do, don’t show up late!
Have discussion questions to stimulate the book club
As the book club organizer, you’re also the discussion leader so be prepared. In addition to having read the book (a must!), you should also be prepared to talk about it. It’s not an interview so don’t interrogate people with the questions, just use them as conversation starters. As the book club evolves, people get to know each other, and you get more experience leading, conversation will be more organic and easy to generate.
Here are a few resources for book club conversation starters:
* The back of the book you’re reading may have reading group questions from the author
* Book Club Questions for Fiction/Novels from LitLovers
* Generic Questions for Nonfiction from LitLovers
* Reading Group Guides (all the work is done for you)
* Creating Your Own Reading Guide from BookBrowse
For the first couple of meetings, you might consider playing a game or icebreaker after roundtable introductions. Here are some resources:
Ignore the rumors
There were rumors a couple of years ago that people would need a permit or club authorization to start a book club in Dubai. There’s been no recent talk of this (as of January 2017) so assume you don’t need any special permission to start a book club. If you do, email us and we’ll be happy to sponsor book clubs that need permission.
Don’t forget why you started the book club
It’s Dubai so people will come and go as book club members. Sometimes you won’t want to lead the discussion. Sometimes you will be busy. Don’t forget why you started the book club in the first place! Write that reason down and refer back to it when you get discouraged.
Don’t feel like you have to be the only organizer for the book club. It’s more important that the club continues than you burnout as the only leader. If you really feel like it’s time for you to move on, pass the book club organizer title to someone else who will love it as much as you did!
Do you organize a book club and want to make sure that we have books from your reading list for Bookish.ae members? Email us and let us know! We’ll add them to our book acquisition and may show up to your book club and buy everyone coffee.