5 Ways to Choose Novels for Your Book Club

Today our book club columnist, Melissa Hambrick, shares how her book club chooses their monthly selections. Grab a pencil, take some notes, and then let us know how  your book club settles on a book.

Melissa Hambrick

Every month, we tie a blindfold on one of our book club members. Then we spin her around in circles until she cries “Uncle! “, and send her topsy-turvy around the bookstore in a drunken stagger to pin the bookmark on the title. Wherever it lands is the book we choose.

Perhaps a bit extreme and slightly off the wall? Maybe. But choosing the perfect book for your club isn’t really a science, even though it feels that way sometimes. Everyone wants to get a turn—

different people like different genres, and what is deeply literary to one may feel like slogging through mud to another. When one person loves a fun read, another might think it’s fluff. So an old-fashioned party game could do the trick in a pinch.

How do you discover those amazing reads that become book club classics, especially with Oprah now off network television? Here are a few things we’ve tried—maybe some will help your club come together:

Goodreads: A great website that connects you with fellow bibliophiles like yourself, the online equivalent of a friend pressing a book into your hot hands and saying, “You have GOT to read this. ” On this site, I’m friends with several people who are in my book club, as well as friends from all over the country.  I’m even friends with a couple of authors now, after reading their books and giving them a nice review and rating. I can see what my friends are reading, and pick and choose from books they’ve read that look interesting. I’ve also been able to offer out questions to some of my favorite authors who come to Goodreads to do online chats…but so far, Ann Patchett has not taken me up on an offer to come join our book club here in Nashville, although I think we made a pressing case for it.

Online Book Clubs: Sites like SheReads.org and BeautyandtheBook.com (home of The Pulpwood Queens book club) are fantastic repositories for previously undiscovered authors and novels. Often, they offer author interviews and background about the book or author you might not read anywhere else. There are usually great giveaways and sometimes, as with BeautyandtheBook.com, getaways as well—like their annual Girlfriend Weekend. And couldn’t we all use that?

Other Books: For a while, we had a couple of rules for picking our monthly reads. First we said it had to be in paperback, because hardbacks were kind of pricey—and then that went by the wayside when everyone in our club ended up getting Kindles and Nooks. Another one of our rules that carried on for a while is that our next book had to, in some way, be a jumping off point from a previous book—either in theme, or setting. It makes for an interesting progression and great comparisons from month to month.

Food: Ah yes, part of the holy trinity of book club—the written word, inspiring conversation and amazing food. Although a book may inspire a menu, it’s possible to let your favorite foods inspire the choice of book, too. I’d also recommend The Book Club Cookbook (http://bookclubcookbook.com/) that pulls together two of my personal favorite things seamlessly. I think our club may soon have a themed dinner with recipes from some of our best-loved novels from the past few years using this book!

Bookstores: Our book club has been known to wrap up a wonderful evening by going to the bookstore as a group and wandering around. No one gets blindfolded. But once we get going, it’s hard to stop, of course—all of us girls and all of those books. It feels decadent. We’re like kids in a candy store. You might also consider signing up for newsletters or social media feeds from retailers big and small. For those of us here in Nashville, Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s new bookstore) sends out some great recommendations on their Facebook page, while I’ve also discovered some great new releases from Barnes & Noble’s emails.

Resign yourself to this: you’ll never make everyone happy. Few and far between are those books, like The Help, that everyone seems to love equally. More often than not, you’ll be a club divided—but isn’t that what makes for a great conversation? I’ve discovered some great authors and some of my favorite books by stretching myself beyond what I would have chosen on my own.

Question for you: How does your book club make their reading picks?

Melissa Hambrick  is a former entertainment industry PR exec, a full-time stay-at-home mom of two boys and a part-time volunteer for any school function that she didn’t scrunch down in her seat far enough to avoid.   Having written for numerous publications, including  Home Lifeand  Today’s Christian Woman, and with chapter one of what is sure to be a bestselling novel stored in her laptop  for the last year and a half, she blogs at WordMom.com less frequently than she probably should.   Her book club, which she lovingly dubs 'overachievers anonymous,’ actually has a strange preference for books they don’t really love, which  they find leads  to much more interesting conversation.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

4 Responses to 5 Ways to Choose Novels for Your Book Club

  1. Mary Hamilton March 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    When I led our book club, I did the choosing. The other participants wanted it that way but felt free to let me know if they didn’t like it. (We were all good friends!) I tried to choose books by new authors, figuring that they were more likely to pick an established author on their own. I would try to choose a variety of genres to keep everyone happy, and they all agreed that whether they liked it or not, they enjoyed being stretched to sample books they wouldn’t ordinarily try.

  2. Robin Coyle March 3, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    At our first meeting of the year we each bring book suggestions to “pitch” to the group and then try to pick a selection that is varied by genre, geography, timeframe, and topic. It has worked well and no blows have been thrown! Yet.

  3. Cynthia Ruchti March 3, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Two other successful methods of choosing book club books: Check out http://www.fictionfinder.com for snapshots of hundreds of novels in a variety of genres. ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) offers this as a free service for readers, libraries, book clubs, etc., to see what’s out there in Christian fiction. The reviews, book trailers, blurbs, honors, and author bios help steer book clubs to great books to read. The other suggestion is that the annual list of Carol Award finalists offer book clubs “the cream of the crop” novels to consider for their group. Out of many hundreds of entries, three in each of more than a dozen categories are selected as finalists for the Carol Award, which honors the best in Christian fiction published in the previous calendar year. You can find the Carol Award finalists on the ACFW website–www.acfw.com

  4. Marianne Barkman June 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Never have been part of a book club, partly because of the timing, so can’t say how they choose their books. i prefer fiction, but most fiction novels now have study guides, and it is actually nice to get in non-fiction sometimes as that is not something i will pick up in general. However i would also go for paperback. i have a kindle and a kobo, but would find it hard to pay for something that isn’t printed on paper.

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