Whether you’ve been a member of a book club for a long time, just joined your local chapter of a Silent Book Club, became a new member of Book of the Month or — like me — simply decided reading consistently is one of your easily achievable new year’s resolutions, finding the right title can be a bit of a challenge.
I’m part of three different book clubs, each with different levels of commitment, and I only read whatever has been chosen about half of the time, and that’s being generous. Sometimes I don’t feel like spending time with a particular title — or author. The more participants a book club has, the more difficult it is to choose a novel that’ll appeal to and satisfy everyone involved.
“We think the best book club books are the ones you keep thinking about long after you’ve turned the last page — the ones that make you ask every friend and family member, ‘Have you read…?’ just so you can talk about it,” say the folks at the online bookstore AbeBooks.
I couldn’t agree more with that. Even though there’s no perfect answer to what makes for the great book club fit, here are a few additional tips that could help you choose that next memorable title:
- Length matters. Even though I devoured Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch, the members of one of my book clubs didn’t appreciate that I suggested it as a read. I have the suspicion that the fact that Tartt’s contemporary mystery is 771 pages long didn’t help my case. We’ve since established a books-no-longer-than-300ish-pages rule.
- Genre matters. If your book club is themed or devoted to one genre or subject, stick to it. If you’re a readers’ collective who dig political memoirs, don’t branch out into romantic literature and vice versa. If your book club doesn’t have a theme though, find it. If you’re open to anything — fiction, non-fiction, science books, essays, thrillers, best-sellers — you risk alienating part of the membership. One of my book clubs has that “anything goes” motto and more often than not I just don’t even start whatever is supposed to be read that month. Even though the openness of the group allowed me to enjoy Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist manifesto The Second Sex or Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian novel The Parable of the Sower, I just knew Blockchain Chicken Farm was not for me.
- Don’t frown upon best-selling or popular books. They’re popular for a reason and they tend to make for safe choices when it comes to book clubs and conversation topics at parties — not that we’re celebrating or assembling much lately, but one can only hope to do it again soonish. There’s nothing like deciding to read Amanda Gorman’s poetry the same year everyone else is doing it or diving into Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half ahead of its HBO adaptation. There’s nothing wrong with starting Sally Rooney’s Normal People after you’ve watched the show on Hulu and everyone else has already read it.
- If you run out of ideas about what to read, check what Oprah Winfrey has suggested over the years, what Reese Witherspoon is up to, the suggestions from Barnes & Noble Book Club or Goodreads’ latest Choice Awards Winners. Sometimes it’s just good to know what other readers are enjoying. If you keep seeing The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave everywhere, maybe that means your book club will enjoy it too.
- Recent releases make for fewer surprises and a better understanding of the current cultural sensibilities. In my search for great adventure reads, I gave both Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (1872) and Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (1922) a try. Both were problematic and I ended up abandoning the second one entirely. I’m not saying read only recently published stuff, but be aware that certain content with inapppropriate or outdated depictions of race, gender, class or sexual orientation can trigger readers.
- And remember that it’s perfectly OK to not finish a book — you don’t even have to start reading it in the first place. Choosing a title that will please you every single time is daunting. Doing it when there’s a whole group of people involved is an impossible task. The power of a book club is to socialize and gather around a table — or Zoom meeting or a patch of grass in the park, in COVID times. You can even make things easier for your co-members and opt for the cheat method we employ at Ask’s book club: we’re selecting books that have also been adapted into movies. Don’t judge us — sometimes we like chatting about a book even if we’ve only watched the movie.