5 easy ways to start your own book club in Singapore
Book-lovers A.J Low (left), Kenny Leck (centre) and Zulkifli Amin (right) share tips for easy ways to start your own book club. (Photos (from left to right): Myra Garces-Bacsal, Arts House Limited, National Library Board.)

5 easy ways to start your own book club in Singapore

You have just finished a book and cannot wait to share the wondrous experience with others. You are not alone. Many others, whose lives have been touched by the power of words, are equally eager to share their insights. So why not round up like-minded company and start a book club?

If you find the idea daunting, relax. Rule #1 of any book club might be that there are no rules, only guidelines. To help you get started, however, we asked the experts — A.J. Low, Kenny Leck and Zulkilfi Amin for tips.

A.J. Low is the pen name of authors Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez, the husband-and-wife duo behind the popular Sherlock Sam series of children’s books. Leck is founder and owner of independent local bookstore BooksActually and its publishing arm, Math Paper Press. Amin is head of content and services for adults at the National Library Board. Read on for their tips and get your book club going.

Tip 1: Birds of a feather flock together
Community is key and who you have in your club makes all the difference, says the Jimenezs. “The people in your book club are key to each meeting being fun (and food-filled).”

Leck chimes in: “Find like-minded people who are not just readers, but who also want to spend time to come together to talk about the books.” If he had his way, his book club would include “the Obamas, (US Supreme Court Justice) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nathan Hartono (he is a reader whenever time allows) and (author and journalist) Susan Orlean.”

Tip 2: Focus to go the distance
A common objective for the club ensures that everyone is on the same page. The focus can be on a particular literary genre, a topic of shared interest or a collective commitment to stay curious and broaden perspectives. Amin says: “Book clubs that have a clear objective tend to retain members and continually attract new members.”

Tip 3: Open books need open minds
Respect is important in a book club and giving space for people to voice different opinions, even if you disagree with the views, is key to having vibrant discussions. Leck says: “Everyone’s views of the book being discussed, whether they liked or disliked the book, are all valid. Of course, everyone in the book club should have equal air-time and this is best maintained when there is a moderator for the book club.”

The Jimenezs say: “For our book club, we’re happy to have one member who operates almost like our club ‘teacher’ – she keeps us on track and always has a ready list of questions for discussion. The rest of us can be recalcitrant children.”

Tip 4: Pace yourselves
Think of the book club like you would any other social gathering amongst friends and schedule the frequency of meet-ups accordingly. Other factors to consider include the expectations or size of the group. For some, every four to six weeks is a good place to start, but flexibility is key. The Jimenezs say: “Our book club is called Saturday Night Book Geeks, but we meet any day of the week as long as we’re free.”

Tip 5: Make each moment count
Variety is the spice of life, so wherever possible, try to keep things interesting. Try having a themed dress code, introduce a book-related game, or invite special guests to club meetings. 

Amin says his most memorable experience was at a Singapore Literature Book Club meeting where he met writer Tan Kok Seng, the author of Son of Singapore and other autobiographical titles on life in early Singapore. “It was a rare chance to meet this individual who had lived through such interesting times. He even brought his photo album (to share) at the meeting.”

Leck agrees that book club meet-ups with authors are hard to beat. “One memorable book club meet-up that (BooksActually) held earlier this year was with Liyana Dhamirah, the author of Homeless, a memoir of her years going through life in Singapore as a homeless individual. She recently ran in the General Elections as a candidate for one of the opposition parties.”

Or, try stealing books from other club members. The Jimenezs say: “During Christmas, we play a book exchange game where you’re allowed to steal someone else’s book. It usually turns into a fierce competition, with members trying to steal the books they really want. It is really fun because it is all done in good humour, and it is also really interesting to see the kinds of books that people gift and the ones they would fight tooth and nail for.”

Interested in joining a book club? Find a book club to join via Meetup or a book club event conducted at the public libraries.

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