Here's How To Save Your Book Club When No One Read The Book

by Melissa Ragsdale
Monkey Business/Fotolia

Most readers start a book club with a fair bit of optimism. You assume that everyone will read the book, that you will finish a record-high number of books during the year, that you will have fascinating discussions with you group. But then of course, the day of the meeting arrives and you realize that the book is still sitting unopened on your nightstand. Maybe you try to rush through as much of it as you can before the meeting — or maybe you give up entirely. Then, when you arrive to your book club ready to mea culpa (or even to fake your way through the discussion) you might even learn that nobody has read the book.

But that doesn't have to be the death of your book club! You don't have to read all the books, or really any books, for your book club meeting to be fun. And I'm not just saying that book clubs are a good excuse to get together and drink wine. I'm saying that you can still have a fun and valuable literary discussion, even if nobody's read the book.

Here's the thing: it's totally okay to not finish books. You don't even have to have a good reason! I'm a frequent DNF-er, and I write about books for a living. So rather than getting hung up on the tiny detail that none of you read the book, here are some things to do in your book club meeting that will keep the discussion going strong and the literary vibes flowing.

Talk about WHY you didn't read the book.

Was it hard to get into? Was it too long? Was it different than the usual type of books you read? Was the main character just so annoying that you couldn't stand it? The reasons why you DNF can be just as interesting and lead to some thoughtful discussions.

If anybody read the book, let the others ask them questions about it.

It's kind of like reading a book by proxy. The person who read the book gets the chance to talk about it, and the people who didn't read the book won't be left in the dust.

Read reviews of the book out loud, and talk about those.

Sometimes book reviews are more entertaining than the book they're critiquing. Look up your book club selection on Goodreads or Kirkus Reviews and see what others are saying about it.

Go around and share your favorite books with each other.

OK so... you didn't read the book you selected for this month's meeting. But you have read other books before, probably. You're all book-lovers so share your absolute favorites with the group and find out where everyone stands.

Talk about what you're each reading right now.

If you're anything like me, you didn't finish your book club book because you were busy reading a different book. Even if the others in your group haven't read it, share your thoughts on your current read with them and ask others to do the same.

Talk about which books you want to read.

Comparing TBR lists is always a good time. See if your fellow group members have read any of the books you're itching to read and what they think about it. And hey, if there's a book you've all been dying to pick up, then that's clearly your next book club pick.

Write together.

Use this meeting time as a chance to encourage each other to write. Bring along your notebook or your laptop, and spend 15 minutes (or however much time you want) free-writing. If you want you can share what you've written, or you can talk about what the experience was like. Either way, this will make the meeting feel like less of a bust.

Find a short story to read and discuss.

There are tons of short stories online that you can read for free in only a matter of minutes. Spend the first part of your meeting taking the time to read a story, and the second part of your meeting having a discussion about it.

Go around and answer this question: What's one classic that you could never get into?

Everyone has a classic book that they just didn't get. Think about that book your teacher forced you to read in high school that drove you crazy, or maybe that book that everybody loves but you never understood why.

Discuss which literary characters you're most like.

Are you totally an Elizabeth Bennet? Is the tiger from Life of Pi your Patronus?

Was there a book that totally scared you as a kid? Discuss.

Come on, we all read a book that frightened the pants off of us when we were little. Whether it was Goosebumps or Harry Potter, I'm sure everyone in your group remembers a book that kept them up at night.

Watch the film adaptation of a book together.

Hey, it's still literary! Watching the movie might not be the same as reading the book, but I'm sure it will give you plenty to talk about.