On Dec. 29th, 2011, I sat in a dark bar lined with bookshelves, reading The Night Circus, drinking wine, and desperately hoping someone would show up to talk to me. It was way, way, way out of my comfort zone – in fact, it felt like a blind date – but I wanted to meet new people with similar interests, and starting a chapter of the FYA book club seemed like the best way to do it. I had no idea that this place would soon become my favorite bar & restaurant in San Francisco, or that the people who would join would become fantastic friends.
The hardest part of SF FYA is that I am sometimes forced to show up early with our Token Boy to save seats in our tiny bar & restaurant. And then there is champagne. Sometimes life is really, really hard.
No one would show up for another two (semi-agonizing) months after that, but when they finally did, the San Francisco FYA Book Club became an unstoppable force. Two years later, we have 88 members, 15-20 of which show up on a regular basis, and I have been interviewed in a local magazine about the club. In my wildest dreams, I had hoped to maybe meet five people who shared my love of YA fiction. All of a sudden, more people kept showing up, the Goodreads group grew, and I am now friends with an incredibly diverse group of women and men ranging from lawyers, teachers, librarians, and writers to IT specialists and artists. One of our members really was Rainbow Rowell’s Park: an Asian guy in an Omaha high school during the 80s, who introduced his friends to New Order and The Smiths. So why aren’t you in a Forever Young Adult book club?
The SF FYA New Year (Dress as Your) Cocktail Party, January 11, 2014. The role of Token Boy is played by the FYA unicorn.
Several author signings, many movies, 25 meetings, a cocktail party, and one bourbon-fueled viewing of Magic Mike later, it just keeps getting better. If you’re thinking about starting your own chapter or joining an existing one, all I can say is: DO IT. It still can feel like a blind date – I can spot someone who is looking for book club as soon as they walk in the door – but it’s a blind date of the best kind.
Time commitment: If you’re worrying that this might be too much of a time commitment, don’t. Organizing meetings takes less than an hour of my time per month. I admit that I am the STOP ME BEFORE I VOLUNTEER AGAIN type, but it's not a huge undertaking. My best tools have been: a) creating a Goodreads group, which brings in members who may not have heard of FYA (gasp!), b) choosing a set day of the week and time (although I check in with the members periodically to make sure this still works for them), and c) using a Doodle poll to figure out what the best date for everyone is. If no one responds, pick a date, order a glass of wine, and bring a book. Sometimes people don’t respond, but will show up anyway.
Format: Don’t be completely wedded to the book discussion format. I’ve found that we often talk the most about books we universally disliked. Sometimes there are folks who want to discuss the book more than the rest of the group -- as a leader, I would suggest surveying the other members’ moods, throwing in a few discussion questions, and seeing where the conversation goes. We usually end up comparing that month's book to others we've read, and the discussion tends to go all over the place. At the end of the day, book club is built on friendships and common interests, not necessarily the most in-depth observations about the book. You should definitely try to cater to both groups, but sometimes our best conversations are based on other books we’re reading, shows we’re watching, or movies we want to see.
Although it’s not a regular thing, sometimes we dress in theme (The Diviners meeting was one such occasion).
Location: Pick a spot that offers alcoholic drinks as well as food and non-alcoholic selections. Whether or not you drink, or the majority of your members drink, coming to a book club full of strangers is a scary thing, and a cocktail or beer can assuage the anxiety. It doesn’t hurt that our meeting place has the most amazing deviled eggs on the planet.
SF FYA at the Catching Fire premiere, Nov. 21, 2013. Jena, in the red shirt, screen-printed her own 75th Quarter Quell t-shirt especially for the premiere!
This was the most surprising part (to me) of starting a book club. All of a sudden, we had a built-in audience of friends for just about anything you can think of: movies, concerts, Vampire Diaries premieres, Dickensian holiday events, Halloween parties at the science museum, Little Mermaid sing-alongs, sitting-at-your-place-drinking-bourbon-punch-and-ogling-our-hot-man-slideshow days, etc. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve started a Google Calendar to keep track of member birthdays, and all the events we plan to host or attend. We were also lucky enough to hang out with the Palo Alto Book Club before and during the Rainbow Rowell signing! (We'd love to meet all the Northern CA clubs -- perhaps a new goal for 2014!)
Mike is, er, magic. Nine of us gathered on August 31, 2013, to drink bourbon punch, eat cheese, and watch the most important film of our generation. Our Token Boy was strangely absent during the viewing. We wonder why.
SF FYA sees The Great Gatsby, May 2013.
In the very near future, San Francisco FYA is planning to host a clothing swap, attend an Pride & Prejudice Erotic Fanfic event (Mr. Collins + Lady Catherine, anyone?), walk in Bay to Breakers (a San Francisco tradition – many people run naked and/or in costume. We’re opting for FYA-themed costumes and a megaphone, in order to YAngelize all across the city), and our own prom. Never a dull moment!
In The End…
Don’t give up. People might not show up right away, but they will, and they’re worth waiting for.
It might sound like an overstatement, but SF FYA has been such a great source of friendship and fun. (It has even been one of my arguments as to why my husband and I can never, ever leave this area.) I can’t say enough nice things about the friends, the community, and the activities we have – hats off to Posh and the rest of the crew for starting the clubs in the first place, and to the folks to SF FYA for being awesome!
What are you waiting for? Join or start your own club!