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How to Start Your Own Book Club and Get Set for Literary Adventures!

Bored with the normal book club format? Learn how to take your reading life to a whole new level!

For the past few years now, I have been curating novel adventures with my book club: The Novel Tourists of Philadelphia. I’ve met new friends, explored fascinating places in the Philadelphia area and beyond, expanded my culinary taste buds, and learned interesting new hobbies. All with my fellow bookworms! If reading, touring, and exploring sound fun to you, why not start your own bookishly active book club! I’m here to help.

Why start a literary adventure book club?

Because you get to read great books and hang out doing fun stuff with like-minded people! Everytime I mention my book club to someone, they almost always say, “That’s so cool! I want to be in a book club like that.” So, to help the world have more bookishly active book clubs, I decided to share all my tips, secrets, and ideas for curating great literary adventure parings.

People holding books and sitting around a table. You can only see their hands and the books.
Sitting around and discussing books is fun, but … going on an adventure while discussing the book – that’s way more fun!

The Novel Tourist Book Club concept is for people who want to get out of the library and into the world! We use books as the springboard for the adventures. For example, here in Philadelphia we read a murder-mystery novel set in the Eastern State Penitentiary and then we went and toured the penitentiary itself! At night (gulp!!). It was awesome, creepy and unique — and we discussed the book while sitting smack dab in the middle of that ancient ruin and sipping on beers from the pop-up beer garden. That’s what a literary adventure book club is all about!

Another time, we read Barkskins, a novel about the lives of French indentured servants and their progeny who make their living and their fortune wielding axes. What did we pair that with? A night of axe throwing, of course! It’s all about pairing a book with a related activity and then having fun while discussing the book.

Starting an adventurous book club

1. Finding Your Book Club Members

Your group can be as big or little as you like. Limit membership to friends and family or invite the whole town! It’s totally up to you. Here a few ways to find members for your new bookishly active book club.

Start a Book Club for Friends and Family

You may already have some friends or family members that like to read. Reel them in and tell them to invite their friends! Maybe you have some friends that like adventures, but aren’t the most avid of readers. That’s okay! The pairing of an adventure to a book just might encourage them to become a bibliophile! If you are new to an area or your friends hate reading and despise adventures, do not despair! There are more options to start your book club.

Start a Public Book Club by Using Social Media

I moved to Philadelphia not knowing a soul. That was rough! But, as always, book clubs came to my rescue. I really wanted to find people to explore my new town with me. So, I turned to Meetup and created The Novel Tourists of Philadelphia Book Club. Within days, 30 people had joined! Now, we are over 1,200 members strong and two new clubs have started in New Jersey and Maryland. Woot woot!

You could also try Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. to encourage members to join your book club! There are so many options. What’s important is that you have a way of communicating with the group and keeping track of members.

Word of Mouth – Book Club Won’t be a Secret!

Don’t be surprised when members start bragging about how their bookishly active book club is the best book club in town! It will happen! Whether you start with two people or 30, your group will grow! (And if you want to limit it to just a few, that’s okay! Just share this post and the envious onlookers can create their own adventurous book club!)

map of world surrounded by books

2. How to Pick Your Adventure/Choose a book

Okay, this is where it gets fun -which comes first – the book or the adventure? Let me tell you a secret…It does not matter! Sometimes you will be inspired by a location, a play or musical, visiting a certain landmark or learning a new skill. Other times, you’ll read a novel about Picasso’s “blue period” and decide you simply must go see the master’s art in person. There are no hard and fast rules. An easy way to get started is by meeting at a restaurant that serves food from the country that is the subject of the book.

Examples of Book and Adventure Pairings

To inspire your literary adventures, here are a few examples of activities I have done with The Novel Tourist Book Club in Philadelphia:

  • The Life List by Lori Nelson and watching improve at a local theater (the protagonist has to perform on stage to fulfill her life list)
  • Geek Love and a trip to the Mütter Museum (or, if you are not near Philadelphia – a traveling circus show works, too!)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and a visit to a real underground railroad location, museum or other similar location.
  • Read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and go for a hike.
  • The Taste of Ginger and then meet for dinner a local Indian restaurant.
  • The Glassblower of Murano and then take a glassblowing class together!

Are Certain Book Genres Better Suited for Pairing with an Activity?

Not all! Frankly, your imagination alone is the only limit to how you can pair up books and inspired activities. You and your book club could choose to focus your adventures on activities inspired by new releases. Or you could take your book club to a different route and explore classic books. Maybe you’ll pair The Light in the Forest with an activity learning more about Native Americans. Or maybe your local theater is performing a production of a classic like The Wizard of Oz? Read and discover how different the book is from the play. (What color are Dorothy’s slippers, really? hmmmm. I know!)

Are you and some book worm friends invited to a Superbowl party and just not that into the team? No worries, suggest a book from this list of must read novels about football. Then you can pass the time before and after the half time show delightfully engaged in a book club discussion! Or even better, head to a local high school football game to cheer on the home team while reliving your high school days together!

Children’s Books and YA Should not be Dismissed!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon, was one of my book club’s favorite books. We paired it with a trip to a local cemetery. The Novel Tourists of Philadelphia also joined up with some adventurous book club friends in NYC and read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler before we jumped on a bus and headed to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Children’s Books and Young Adult books are also great for when you find a really cool activity, but need a quick and easy read to pair it with. Heard about a festival in two weeks that you really want to go to with your book club friends? No worries! Pair it with an interesting children’s book. I’ve found that even the simplist books can spark fascinating discussions.

3. But, what if I can’t think of any ideas!

Don’t worry, you’ll be surprised how ideas for adventures literally will flow off the page! But if you find yourself struggling, you aren’t alone. I’ve been pairing books and activities together for over five years now. Little by little, I’m posting them here on the website to help inspire you. Take a look around!

You can get all the newest ideas by signing up for The Novel Tourist newsletter. It’s full of specially curated book and adventure pairings, tips on managing your book club, and more. You can also follow along and meet other literary adventurers on our Facebook or Instagram sites.

Let the Book Inspire You!

My favorite books are those that suck me in so much so that when I turn the last page it takes me a second to recognize my own living room. The kind of book that transports me somewhere other than where I am. Or, makes me feel like it would be fun to experience something the fictional heroine experienced. Reading The Giver of Stars made me want to try my hand at being a horseback librarian. Of course, that’s not a realistic notion – that job ended in 1943! However, there’s nothing stopping me from booking a trail ride at a nearby stable. So, that easily became one of my book club’s literary adventures!

Don’t be Afraid to be Creative!

Sometimes it takes some creativity, but the end result is almost always so unique! For instance, I was inspired to be a volunteer “hider” after reading Sing, Unburied Sing. The story is a character-driven drama of a contemporary, bi-racial family living in rural Mississippi. The main character is 13-year-old Jojo. Her mom has a serious drug problem. Her dad is in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman. Jojo and his sister live primarily with their grandparents, Pop and Mam.

When I contemplated the paired activity, I quickly ruled out experimenting with hallucinogenics or snorting cocaine! I thought about visiting a prison, but found the idea too depressing. And then, inspiration hit! I thought about Pop’s responsibility with the tracking dogs at Parchman. It’s amazing that dogs can track a scent on command. I simply had to learn more about it. That’s how I ended up hiding for a bloodhound in training named Ethel. It was an incredible literary inspired experience!

Activity Identified, but Having Trouble Pairing a Book?

No problem! That’s where my curated book pairings can help you out! Let’s say you want your book club to attend a piano concert, a jazz night out, or something else musical. No worries, I put together this list of “fictional books for music lovers” to give you some ideas. You’ll find many more ideas here at The Novel Tourist Book Club website. Just peruse around the Book Pairing’s page.

If you’re so busy adventuring…when do you discuss the book?

That’s the best part! You can discuss the book whenever and however you want! Certainly you can plan to meet at a restaurant or tavern before or after the activity. Other times, the adventure lends itself to discussion periods, such as picnicking during a hike after reading These Silent Woods. Or, as mentioned above, while grabbing a beverage during a tour of the penitentiary. One time, my book club stopped to discuss West with Giraffes while standing in front of the giraffe enclosure at the zoo!

You can’t go wrong starting a book club for people who love to explore. I have found that the commonality of being a reader who loves adventures makes strangers quickly become friends.

If you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact me. I love, love, love talking about literary adventure pairings! All you need to do is come up with a fun name for your new book club!

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