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Required reading

By Carla Goodman

Want to get a handle on the best business books to read and discuss what you've read with other entrepreneurs? Maybe it's time you started a business reading group.

As one of the hottest trends going, business reading groups "are an invaluable opportunity for entrepreneurs to talk to their peers, network and bounce ideas around," says Patricia Anderson, director of sales and marketing for Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. in San Francisco.

Berrett-Koehler Publishers is one of two dozen publishing companies behind the Consortium for Business Literacy, an informal organization that encourages the formation of business reading groups. Here are the Consortium's guidelines for starting your own reading group:

Where: Your local bookstore might offer a meeting room you can use, or look for a meeting space at your library, community center, church or synagogue. Another option that might be easier: Rotate meetings among the members' homes or businesses.

When: Ideally, your group should meet once a month at the same day and time--say, the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. Depending on the number of members present and how lively the discussions become, expect meetings to last 60 to 90 minutes.

How: You'll need a facilitator--someone to open and close your meeting, encourage discussion among members, keep the discussion on track so the meeting ends on time, and review the book of the month carefully for specific discussion topics. The facilitator might be the same person each time, or you can rotate the role among members.

Who: Guest authors are one way to spice up a reading group. At Barnes & Noble's Walnut Creek, California, location, which sponsors a monthly business reading group, members frequently invite authors to discuss their works. A recent guest was Robert Mondavi, president of Mondavi Vineyards in Napa, California, and author of Harvest of Joy: My Passion For Excellence: How the Good Life Became a Great Business (Harcourt Brace, $27, 800-237-2665).

How much: Costs should include the price of the book, any printing or mailing charges for meeting notices, and refreshments. To keep costs low, encourage a local bookstore to offer a discount on your group's monthly selection. Create an e-mail list or phone tree so members can stay in touch without printing and mailing anything.

Serve simple refreshments like coffee, soft drinks and cookies. If you need more substantial fare, chip in for pizza or have a potluck dinner to spread the costs and help busy members who can't find the time to eat before the meeting.

Learn more: For guidelines on starting and running your own reading group, plus suggested readings, study guides and activities to ensure lively, productive discussions, check out these Web sites: http://www.bkpub.comor

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get a Clue.

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