How to Start a Historical Fiction Book Club (and What to Read!)

So you decided to start a historical fiction book club. Congratulations! Great books and conversations await – and if you’re looking to start an in-person book club, there’s most likely a cake waiting for you, too. But you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. A historical fiction book club, like any other, requires at least some degree of planning. So where to start ?

A few months ago, I started coordinating the virtual book club, The book club for unusual historical novels, founded by author Jackie Barbosa. Since then, I have learned a few things. Good to know: While formats and themes may vary, historical fiction book clubs are surprisingly simple. All you need is a to-do list, a few extra lists, and some time. That said, let’s get started, shall we?

Back to basics

Before you get down to business, you need to know the basics of running a book club.

Define your goal

What kind of books do you want to read? Fiction or non-fiction? Classics? Mystery? Choose your niche. Of course, your niche can simply be “the book most of our members want to read this month”. But it’s important to know that it fits.

Choose a Size

In person or virtual? If the first, you will have to choose a place. In the latter case, you will have to decide how the discussions will proceed. In a meeting? In a Discord channel or Facebook feed? There are pros and cons to all options, so take the time to think carefully about what you want your book club to be.

Who Are you going to invite?

It entirely depends on the size or size of your book club. A small meeting of friends? A club open to all library users? Consider how much moderation you are willing to do.

Understand a book selection process

Are you going to select all the books? Do the members take turns? Will there be options that members can vote on? You need to be very clear about this and also let everyone who joins know.

Always make sure to keep your books accessible

If a monthly selection happens to be a book that only exists in one format, it will make it harder or downright impossible for some members to join in on reading. For example, someone with another type of e-reader or a disabled person who cannot see the tiny font of a certain printed book may have difficulty accessing certain books. You want your club members to feel welcome, so always be sure to be inclusive.

Brainstorming Questions and Prompts

A book club is not a no-talk book club, after all. Often people want to talk about a book but don’t know where to start. Try to have a mix of open and closed questions, emphasizing the former. Don’t think you have to stick too closely to the list, though. Sometimes the best conversations are unexpected.

The specificities

Refine your focus

You already know you want to read historical fiction. Great. But you can streamline your vision even further: are you going to focus on a certain historical period? A certain theme, like books about war or books written by women, for example?

Stay up to date with new releases

In order to choose books, you need to know what is published. But don’t stay on the surface: there are plenty of great books by authors of color and LGBTQ authors that don’t get the same publicity as those by cis and white authors. Follow bloggers and authors on social media, sign up for newsletters, and search databases to find hidden, or at least under-reported, gems. Naturally, Book Riot has plenty of listings that highlight new releases from various authors.

Create a spreadsheet to save all your selections

I know I know. You can use a Word document or even a spiral notebook if the spreadsheets make you break out in hives. Whichever way you choose, you need a record of the books you’ve already read to make sure you don’t choose too many of the same things and to avoid chaos if you’re not the only one. person to choose the books.

Build Another one Possible future selections spreadsheet

If I had a dime for every time I overlooked an intriguing possibility when I started coordinating The Unusual Historical Romance Book Club, well, I’d have a dollar (hey, it’s been less than a year). But now, whenever I come across a book that might work, I take a quick note and then add it to the folder.

Give a brief introduction to the historical period and setting – or at least a list of resources

Sometimes it’s hard to understand a book if you don’t know enough about the socio-economic context in which it is set. A story set in England in 1942 will not look the same as a story set in pre-colonial India. If you understand the context and the cultural mores of the time, you can better appreciate the conflicts and the characters. Give your members some background, like a map, a political system – is it an absolutist monarchy? A republic? A bare bones historical timeline is a good way to start.

Consider having a group chat

Or a Google Drive folder or a Facebook group. Somewhere you and members can share videos, book recommendations, and article links about the period and setting. Historical fiction is about immersing yourself in another world, after all.

If you want to read more historical books, why not try historical non-fiction? There are also historical romantic manga or mysteries!

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