No Drama Guide to Choosing Books for Book Club


Picture this: you’re at book club, the book discussion is winding down, you and your friends are on a second (or third) glass of wine, and your belly is full of bruschetta and mini key lime tarts. Then someone notices the time. Now you need to wrap up the evening and pick the next book. Depending on your group, this could go down smoothly (like the wine bottles you just drained) or cause trouble. As a veteran book-clubber I can suggest a few ways to pick books without wrecking the vibe.

Pick a pleasing process

Book club isn’t just about the books, ambience, and conversation. A well-run book club is organized with easy to understand rules. One cornerstone is how you pick the books. You have several options:

  1. The host or organizer of each meeting chooses the book. Some book clubs like to link the book with the host. On a positive note, this cuts down on debate because what the host decides wins. However, not everyone likes the pressure of suggesting the next book. Often this method involves scheduling the hosts for the next six to 12 months. Each host is responsible for sending their pick to the group in advance.
  1. Like a fantasy draft, pick a year’s worth of books all at once. This is my favorite method. Everyone comes to the meeting with two to three book suggestions with summaries. The group gets to weigh in on all the selections and choose the next eight to 12 books. Often, this means everyone gets at least one of their picks in the lineup. Plus, when you select a batch of books in one sitting it’s easier to mix up the genres. Do you really want to read three slavery novels in a row? Could you stomach more than two dystopias a year? You don’t have to be too methodical, but it’s nice to balance the choices. And picking books in advance can be cost effective because you’ll have plenty of time to reserve books through the library. Or you’ll have time to swap books. On the negative side, it’s hard to integrate new members. And, if a great book comes along you’ll have to wait several months to add it to the list. Still, I prefer the all-at-once approach because the book selection discussion is concentrated in one meeting and the rest of the year just flows.
  1. Select the next host and book at the end of meeting. If you prefer to go with the flow and be open to new releases, you might like selecting books one or two at a time. When you wrap up the current book you can move right into discussing what you want to read next. You get a lively open discussion and any member can suggest the next book with consensus or a loose vote deciding the next books. This works well if you all have similar tastes or don’t mind a little back-and-forth debate. If you choose this method, the leader may want to interject every now and then to make sure some of the quieter members get heard. And be prepared with a quick summary and rating to back up your suggestions.

Other rules—frequency, spoilers, hosts, and meeting spots

You’ll need to decide how often you meet—usually every four to six weeks works well for most groups. I’ll say that my first group of single ladies enjoyed meeting once a month and rarely had problems finishing books. Once babies entered the picture, we met less often so that we had more time to read the last chapter. So, consider your group dynamics when setting up the meetings.

On a related note, it’s a good idea to set up a ground rule on spoilers. I personally like a general guideline of not requiring everyone to finish the book as long as they don’t mind when the discussion turns to plot spoilers and the ending.

Now, who will host and when? If you don’t link the hosts to the books (see above) then the easiest way is to set the host schedule six months to a year in advance.

Where will you meet? It’s up to your group to decide if you want to meet in homes, at restaurants or bars, coffee shops, or public spaces like libraries or community centers. Hosting at homes is often more convenient as long as roommates, kids, and partners can find safe places to hide from raucous voices and hooting laughs. It’s also a good idea to be clear about the hosting expectations. In my first book club everyone (including the hostess) brought either a beverage or a dish to share. Often, most brought a bottle of wine and an appetizer. Another approach that also works well is for the host to provide the beverages and guests bring an appetizer or dessert.

Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are decent alternatives to meeting in homes. It’s good to get out of the house, and even better to avoid cleaning your house. But this depends on your group’s budget. Not everyone can afford to go out on a regular basis. If budgets are a concern, consider coffee shops. Check the seating options and noise level. Of the three, I think coffee shops with meeting rooms are the best. Restaurants and bars can get noisy and may not have a good space for discussion—it’s hard to engage everyone in a discussion at a long table.

Not necessarily by the book

Here’s the deal. There are so many ways to run your book club. In the end, you’ll know what works well for the group. If your meetings start to thin out or it feels stale, try mixing up how you pick the books or find a new place to meet. And, consider following authors on social media channels—some are willing to Skype with book clubs.

In the end, it’s all about the books and friendship—and the snacks. We just finished People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and the Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Next on my reading list are Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert (scheduled for publication February 2016) and Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.

What’s next on your reading list?

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