In honor of St. Patrick's Day and the Irish literary tradition, we though this would be a good time to discuss starting and organizing a book club. As with almost anything you do, the key is in the planning.

We often talk about the four essential ingredients of a successful party, the hook, the atmosphere, the knowledge, and the mix. These same principles hold true for a book club as well. The hook is the attention grabber, it sets the stage and piques the interest. The atmosphere is the location, living room or book store? The knowledge is the background information, in other words, do your homework. And finally the mix, the individual members you choose to invite and how they interact.

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1. The first tip is personal, what do you want to get out of it? Is it to broaden your literary horizons, or meet like minded people? This helps you establish the ground rules or philosophy of the club. This will also be your hook, the idea thats gets others interested in your organization.

2. What will be your mix? Are you looking for a small group of people who share your interests, or a large and diverse club? It's important to think of how your members might get along. If you are aware of some animosity between friends, you might have to pick just one to be invited to the club.

3. Think about the books you would like to read. After all this is your club. Are you interested in fiction, non-fiction, or the classics. There are plenty of like minded readers out there so you have a lot of leeway.

4. What about club leadership? Do you want to lead the club, exclusively? If so, there are emails to be sent, phone calls to be made, dates to be kept. Not to mention discussion questions and refreshments. If you are a take charge kind of person, you may be just what the club needs. Otherwise think about a rotating leadership.

5. How many members do you want. Small groups can be fun and close knit. But the burden of leadership and hosting rotates fairly quickly. Big groups make for good conversation. But be aware of the more soft spoken members of the group so they don't get overwhelmed. Speaking of membership, a good place to find members is at the local library or bookstore. Ask if they have a bulletin board where you could put an announcement. Many bookstores also offer discounts to book clubs. Ask about reduced rates on multiple copies purchased.

6. How often will the club meet? Is there a set date every month, or will your club be more flexible? Think about summer vacations and winter holidays.

1. Invite the members at least two weeks before the date. Let them know when and where the meeting will take place. And of course, let them know the book you have chosen. Think of the atmosphere. Living rooms are very comfortable and convenient, but it can limit your club size. Book stores and libraries often welcome clubs and they have more space. However, what you may gain in elbow room, you may lose in coziness.

2. Here is an important point. We have attended book clubs where members were aksed not to come if they had not completed the book. We were not fond of this rule. So at our club, we want everyone to attend. All we ask is that you let us know whether or not you have read the book. There is no guilt, schedules and emergencies arise. In fact, some of the best questions at our discussions have come from those who have not read the book.

3. Keep a record of the books you have read. A year or so into the club you will be glad you did.

4. At the present club meeting make all of the arrangements for the next book club. The next leader should already know who they are and have a book suggestion or two ready.

5. Set a time limit and adhere to it. This makes it easier for people to schedule the book club into their routine if they know exactly how long the discussion will last.

6. Finally, it might be a good idea to have minimum number to hold a discussion. If there are fewer than say three people available, that month's discussion will be rescheduled.

1. If the next leader is ready to go with several book suggestions, then the group can vote on which book to read next. This gives everyone a say.

2. Sometimes it is fun to let everyone have a book suggestion. Then the group has a wider variety to vote on. But this can get a little unwieldy if your group is quite large. Ask each person with a suggestion to make a pitch for their book. Keeping it short and sweet.

1. The leader for the present meeting should have a few conversation starters ready to go. This is the knowledge part of the planning. Do a little homework, maybe some online research will give you a real insight into the author's motives.

2. Everyone should note passages that were particularly meaningful with to them page numbers and lines marked.

3. Because of the amazing growth in popularity of book clubs lately, many publishers offer reading guides and discussion question online. Here are the links to some of the larger publishing houses.

Harper Collins (includes Avon, Amistad and William and Morrow)
Random House (includes Knopf, Doubleday, Pantheon, and VIntage Books)
Penguin Putnam (includes Viking, Dutton, Plume and Signet)
Time Warner (includes Little, Brown and Co.).

1. What are the circumstances that set the book in motion?

2. Which characters changed or developed the most? How do they change, for better or worse? Which characters change the least?

3. What about the writer's style, or use of language? How did the author use style to make the narrative more effective?

4. What did you learn from this book? How can you relate the message to your own life?

5. Do you have empathy with any characters? Was there a storytelling flaw that you just couldn't get around or understand?

6. What is the significance of the title?

7. Was the action determined by the setting? In other words, could this story happen anywhere at any time?

8. Did you like the book?

9. Read your favorite passages aloud.

Book clubs take a lot of TLC and patience. Be understanding and flexible. Lives have a way of filling up quickly, so always welcome everyone with a warm smile. Never make someone feel guilty for missing a couple of meetings. And DON'T get involved in appetizer envy. If you happen to have the meeting at someone's house who is a gourmet chef, be thankful - don't worry about trying to outdo them when your leadership responsibility rolls around.