Tips for Choosing Book Club Books

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There’s plenty to discuss in The Deepest Secret.

“What’s our next book?” — the dreaded question facing every book club. Here are some suggestions to help increase your chances of choosing a book that will inspire a fun and enlightening discussion:

  1. Decide if you’re a democracy or a dictatorship. Will your group vote on the books, or will each member be given the chance to make an executive decision on your monthly selection?
  2. Don’t worry about whether everyone will like the book. Some of the best book club discussions happen when not everyone likes the book. And sometimes a member who came into the meeting with a negative opinion of the book goes home with a new appreciation for it.
  3. And don’t worry about liking fictional characters. You’re not befriending them, you’re discussing why they behave as they do.
  4. Don’t be afraid of nonfiction. I think nonfiction books often provide the best material for discussion.
  5. cover-2Unless you’re a very literary group, choose books that focus on interesting issues. Your book club meeting most likely isn’t going to resemble a college English seminar. You’ll  probably have more fun talking about the ethical problems presented in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks than the imagery in The Age of Innocence.
  6. Pick a book that is the right length for the amount of time your group has to read it. Don’t choose The Luminaries if your group is meeting in three weeks.
  7. Don’t choose The Luminaries (or anything of similar density) if your group is the type that discusses the book for 15 minutes and then moves on to more important things — like where you should meet next month.
  8. 9780547554839_hresBeware of books that one of your members describes as “uplifting” or “feel-good”. There won’t be much to talk about.
  9. Take advantage of all the resources that are available online and in your community. There are countless websites devoted to book clubs, including lists of suggested books. Your local library and bookstore will be happy to make recommendations for you, and to let you know what other groups are reading.
  10. Ask your friends (especially out-of-town friends) what their book clubs have read and how successful their choices were. Post “Any great book club books you can recommend?” as your Facebook status.
  11. Consider organizing a book exchange.  Have everyone bring a book he or she has recently read and trade books. At the next meeting, briefly review all the books and if one stands out, choose it for an in-depth discussion.
  12. Leave some flexibility in your schedule; don’t choose books for the whole year.
  13.  If your group is having a hard time finishing books — or agreeing on book choices — read a short story or an essay. You could even spend the year reading The Best American Short Stories 2013 or The Best American Essays 2013.
  14. Think about choosing books that have won major prizes (National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker) or have received good reviews in publications you trust.

cover-1I always look to Publishers Weekly for book recommendations; if a book gets a starred review in PW, I pay attention. Carla Buckley’s The Deepest Secret got a starred review, which doesn’t surprise me; the reviewer called it “superb”, and I agree! I read the book last fall, because I was going to meet Carla at a dinner hosted by Random House to introduce authors and editors to Chicago-area booksellers. The Deepest Secret is the story of Eve Lattimore, a parent who makes a terrible error in judgment — and then compounds that mistake by keeping it secret, in an effort to protect her chronically ill son. Much more than a page-turner, The Deepest Secret is a morally complex exploration of parental love. It’s a rare and wonderful treat to read a suspenseful novel that is also character-driven. Book clubs will argue about the choices that Eve, her family, and friends make; there are no easy answers.

I started reading the book the day before I was due to meet Carla. I arrived at the dinner nearly 30 minutes early (very unusual for me) and sat in my car reading the book until the appointed time. When I saw people starting to enter the restaurant, I stashed the book in my purse and joined them. I introduced myself to the first person I saw — who turned out to be Carla Buckley! I told her that her new book was truly “unputdownable” and that I hated to tear myself away from it; I’m not sure she believed me until I showed her my book, with a page dog-eared about halfway through. Carla (along with another terrific author, Jenny Milchman) will be coming back to the Chicago area on May 8 — please join us (with or without your book club) for a great discussion. No need to choose the books — they are already chosen for you! Jenny is the author of two suspense novels: Cover of Snow, a psychological thriller about a young wife in upstate New York investigating her husband’s mysterious suicide, and Ruin Falls (due in April)  about a mother desperately searching for her missing children. (Cover of Snow, Jenny’s debut novel, also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.)

 

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17 thoughts on “Tips for Choosing Book Club Books

  1. I love these tips for choosing books. My club lets members choose, we use the whose birthday is next method. It works. Three of us are also book bloggers and the others are a mix of working and stay at home moms with diff age families and time limits. Huge variety of books chosen.

    • Anita, I love that idea! I haven’t heard that one before and will definitely add it to my list. I’m trying to organize a new book club (movie adaptations) and I’m going to suggest we use your method since we are already having trouble with the first selection.

  2. This is a great post that should go viral. Everyone needs to read it. Such great advice. I belong to a power group of readers in my neighborhood – over 20 women meeting for about 7 years. A book a month and many of them quite hefty. I have to pick November’s title and I’m already worrying about what book to choose. This post has given me lots of clarity and I’m going to share it with my book group. Thanks so much!

    (And thanks for hopping along on the Hump Day Blog Hop!)

    • So sorry I did not reply to your nice comment earlier! Thanks for hosting the Hump Day Blog Hop. And thanks for sharing my post. I’ll be curious to hear what you choose for November — wow, your group really plans ahead! I have done a little feature on my blog called Book Club Spotlight — I think I’ve done it about 3 or 4 times, interviewing book group members each time. Maybe your group would like to be featured?

  3. Excellent post! There’s so much great information here. I especially like the idea of staying away from “uplifting” and “feel good” books if you want an interesting discussion.

    • Thanks, Anna! Sorry I missed your comment earlier. An interesting book about reading inspiring books is Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch. She finds many books that people would immediately label “depressing” very inspiring.

  4. Stopping by from Steadfast Reader–these are all such great tips! I completely agree with your point about it not being a prerequisite that everyone like the book–some of the BEST book club sessions I’ve ever attended happened when there was sharp disagreement about characters, plot points, etc. Face it–if everyone loved everything about the book, there’s just not much to say.
    And–I love your comment here–” . . .don’t worry about liking fictional characters. You’re not befriending them, you’re discussing why they behave as they do.” I couldn’t agree more!

  5. Those tips are FANTASTIC. This next part is going to sound weird, but I prefer not to be in book clubs with people that I’m friends with through other venues (like work or school). Each time I’ve tried to start a book club that way it’s been an abysmal failure. I would always read the book, but then we’d end up just drinking wine and not chatting about the book. I’ve had better luck with MeetUp groups, though it can be awkward at first.

    I love suspense novels and I love character driven novels. I’m definitely putting The Deepest Secret on the TBR!

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

    • Love that you are organizing Spread the Love. I finally figured out how to get my button to link back. I think you may be on to something about book clubs working better with groups of like-minded “strangers”. I find that many people join book clubs even when they’re not interested in reading. I don’t understand it — I don’t join knitting groups!

    • I know, it is frustrating when that happens. Sometimes it’s because the book was a poor choice — or sometimes you have a group of people who haven’t read the book, so of course they can’t discuss it.

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