How to Pick a Book for Bookclub

June 16, 2011

One of the main reasons I have avoided bookclubs in the past is that I live in fear of choosing a book to make other people read.

Which means that, for me, step #1 for selecting a bookclub book is STRESS LIKE MAD. Preferably for weeks.

Currently, I belong to two bookclubs. For one of them, I chose Wait Til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’d read it in 2006 for my sports history class at BYU (a much more difficult class than you might guess) and had really enjoyed it.

Frankly, that bookclub was easier to select a book for – it’s a fairly serious book group, with a lot of discussion and there is no hesitancy to pick substantial books. And everyone reads them. Last night, we met and discussed The Warmth of Other Suns, which, clocking in at 640 pages of non-fiction, is not something you breeze through the afternoon of bookclub. All eleven women had read it carefully, and we discussed it for nearly three hours.

So, you know, for that bookclub, it’s easier to pick a book.

The other bookclub, though . . .whew. I have debated for months what book to choose.

First off, we have a big span of what people like. Some members of the group want fluff reading (and, if you know me, you know I am not opposed to fluff reading), while other members are pretty openly critical of anything fluffy we read. So that makes it difficult to pick something that will keep everyone happy.

And if people aren’t interested in the book that’s chosen, they simply don’t read it. When someone chose My Antonia a few months ago, I was the only person who read it. The. Only. One. (Even the person who picked it didn’t reread it).

Also, many of the people in that group have a Kindle, so picking something that doesn’t have a Kindle edition means you’re going to lose a lot of the group right there (which disqualified one of my early possibilities of Cheaper by the Dozen).

I contemplated choosing The Wednesday Wars but I am so deeply attached to that book that I truly didn’t think I could stand it if half the group didn’t read it and the other half thought it was dumb. I just. . . couldn’t.

And I might have picked something like Outliers or What the Dog Saw, but the group read non-fiction titles the last two months, so I wanted to move away from that for the sake of diversity.

So, finally, after way too much deliberation, I picked The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s fiction, it’s an easy read (even more necessary since it’s summer), and I love it, but if people don’t like it, I can deal (do I sound like a delicate emotional flower or what?).

I enjoy both groups for different reasons, but whoa boy,  picking a book for this second group took at least 3 months off my life.

Am I the only one with the kind of mental instability over bookclub books? (Also, did this give you zero help in choosing a book for your own bookclub, or what? I am nothing if not unhelpful).

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  • Reply heidikins June 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Gasp! I love love LOVED My Antonia! It's one of my all-time favorites!

    I get super anxious picking something for a book club, I just…I can't do something i love because what if they hate it. And I have a hard time recommending something I don't love.

    Thus and hence, I don't belong to a book club. Win some, lose some I suppose.


  • Reply Jenae June 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Just read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from a bookclub. (I don't attend but I'm friends with the bookclubbers and sometimes I get bookclub back splash). Anyway, non-fiction, really interesting, fairly easy read, goes quickly, sparks debate. Something to think about.


  • Reply smalldog June 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I should belong to a bookclub…but I don't. I've heard too many horror stories from friends in hyperpolitical, uberintense, soccermomtothenthdegree clubs to risk it in Utah Valley. I console myself by remembering that I read plenty by myself.

  • Reply Jenny June 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I understand. I love The Wednesday Wars and I recently had a friend read it. I even told her if she didn't like it I might die! Luckily she loved it. The book club I attend, thank goodness, chooses books together and mostly we all read them. I'm usually the one who doesn't like the book and I'm fine with that. Sorry it's so stressing. I hope they like the book you picked. I haven't read that one.

  • Reply Sherry June 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I'm a little flabbergasted that people didn't read My Antonia. It's certainly not fluff, but it's not super challenging either. It's not like you were being asked to read Crime and Punishment or something. Good grief.

    I want to be a member of a book club. How have I not done this yet?

  • Reply RA June 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    In my book club, the person who suggests the book is on the hook for leading the discussion, so that is a built-in censor. We also have at least 1 person, but usually 2 people, read the book before it's officially "on the table" as an option to build a sort of fan base. I find that that the people in our book club are dedicated, but we run the gamut in literary-ness, if that makes sense, so they benefit from more than just a description from Amazon or something.

    Like you, I can't bring myself to suggest my very favorite books of all time, so I have never brought up Two-Part Invention, but next week, I'm leading the discussion on Peace Like a River, which I did not expect to like as much as I did. I keep finding myself recommending it to people.

  • Reply Jennifer Lee June 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    The book club that I participate in (all ladies from church) rotates location and hostess, and the person who is hosting chooses the book and leads the discussion. The only rule is that you can only choose a book that you have read. We've had months where only one or two people read the book and months where most people have read the book. I can't think of a single time in three years where everyone attending read the book.

    Our most well-liked, well-attended, and well-discussed book? The Wednesday Wars. I can't wait for Okay for Now to be the book chosen.

    I do love my book group and enjoy the converation there even if only 20% has anything to do with the book, but I would also love to be part of a group where everyone reads and everyone comes prepared to discuss.

  • Reply Packrat June 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    My Antonia is around here somewhere. Guess I should read it. But that wasn't your point. Your point and others anxiety causing issues you mentioned are exactly why I do no belong to book clubs or Bible study groups. (Yes, they do actually have something in common.)

  • Reply Kimberly June 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Nicely chosen. I'm in a book club like your second and can definitely see how it's harder to pick. If no one likes it, you can tell them I loved it. 😛

  • Reply Carly June 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I also LOVE My Antonia. I've read it at least three times.

    I want to be part of a book club! (Um, like the first one you mentioned… not as much the second!)

  • Reply ssm June 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    I LOVE that book. LOVE! I have only gone to ONE book club ever because I don't like anyone's picks ever and don't want to go! I think my tastes must be…eclectic? (That might be a kind way of saying bad, but I don't care.)

  • Reply Lindsay June 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I, too, have anxiety about picking books for book club. The first time I hosted, I chose "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (one of my top five favorite books of all time). Luckily, everyone who read it loved it, too (how could they not?). For my second book club, I changed my book about three times before settling on "Walk Two Moons."

    I loved "The Wednesday Wars;" I will have to read "My Antonia."

  • Reply Alison K. June 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    I used to be a part of that second book club…. I too had a hard time picking a book for similar reasons you mentioned. I miss being in a book club, but i dont miss having a book choice critiqued by my peers 🙂

  • Reply Elsha June 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    I have been in book clubs where it is almost impossible to choose a book– especially one that everyone will read. Now I'm in two book clubs and they're both pretty easy to pick books for, but here's why: One is more serious, people almost always read the books, and we do all our picking in December. (One meeting, everyone brings suggestions, then we discuss and pick for each month of the next year.) And the other book club is easy to pick for because we started it specifically as a YA lit book club. Of course, we have a problem with picking books that are 3rd or 4th in the series of books giving everybody lots of extra reading. But since all the members joined it knowing we were reading exclusively Young Adult stuff it means we're all on the same page about what kind of books will get read.

  • Reply Holly Hoffman Spears June 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    amen sista! it's so stressful to tell other people what to read. what if they hate it? what if they think you wasted their time? what if they don't even bother to read it? it makes me nuts when no one in the book club actually reads the book. i mean, hello! book club and all. that happened so often in my group, i sorta quit going and i think it fizzled out soon after that. anyways, i support Frankie. I think it was a good choice. 🙂

  • Reply ACQ June 17, 2011 at 12:44 am

    I have such stress about picking! The first book I picked for the club I am in was a total flop (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). I thought it was ok but everyone else hated it and still brings it up more than a year later! The next time around I agonized and picked The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I can't recommend highly enough. Still, I feel I'll never live down that first pick. :-/

  • Reply creole wisdom June 17, 2011 at 1:25 am

    See that Lindsay who commented? That's the one who reminds me of you 🙂 So glad she discovered you!

    I have wanted to read My Antonia for MONTHS but it is on hold at the library forever and I've given up hope.

  • Reply Kayla June 17, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Man, I really want to belong to that first type of book club. That would be amazing. Maybe I should start one?

    Freckles in April

  • Reply Erica June 17, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Ugh, that sounds like the most miserable task ever! The book club I belonged to for 5 seconds went through Barnes and Noble's Classic series. Made things easier, and those books were cheap for rich people who don't use the library.

    North Meet South

  • Reply Sheyenne June 17, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Janssen, you wasted your stress. Pick a book you love and who cares what everyone else thinks? When I did bookclub I just picked whatever in heck I liked, even though I had suspicions that maybe no one else would like it. I thought they to read those books, and if they couldn't appreciate it, then their loss. That sounds more snarky than I meant it… Anyhoo, I figure if I have to read everyone else's picks even though I've hated some, then they are darn well going to read mine.

  • Reply Saskia June 17, 2011 at 8:22 am

    My bookclub has a rule that you can't have read the book you pick when you pick it. That increases my stress levels by at least 300%.

  • Reply Operation Pink Herring June 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I don't recommend books that I really, really love to other people because I don't want it to damage our relationship if they don't like it.

  • Reply Emily June 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    I was in a book club for a while that was very similar to the second one you're in: if we picked a fluffy book, two people would complain. If we picked something meatier, the fluff fans would complain. And half the time only one or two of us would even have read the book before we met! One time we picked The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and since it was massive and I knew my sister would need to read it, too, I drew up a whole reading schedule and read like crazy for a week – and I was the only one who bothered to read the whole thing. I was so mad. Our discussions somehow always ended up being a debate about Twilight, too.

    I also made the mistake of choosing books I really love, like Nine Coaches Waiting and Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman (which is adorable, and if you haven't read it you really should), so my feelings were hurt when no one else liked them much.

    No wonder it didn't last long!

  • Reply Rachel June 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I just gave a friend The Wednesday Wars and she started it but didn't like it enough to finish (gasp!) Now I feel like we can't ever talk about or share books again, so sad. Good call.

  • Reply Jodi June 18, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    it totally stresses me out. My book group here is die hard, but not in the way that makes you hate it- I love it! They read Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, and then invited Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to come and lead the discussion. What we always do is choose three books, then everyone gets to vote. That way it's something most people want, and most people always read it.

  • Reply Kathleen June 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    We read The Wednesday Wars and Stargirl in our book club and I was HURT when people didn't like them and criticized them. I will never recommend to a book club that they read a book I LOVE because I can't take that kind of discussion again.

  • Reply Strong Family - June 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Did we read My Antonia for Book Club? I remember reading it a couple of years ago, but not for Book Club. Maybe I was out of town or something, because I loved it. I also looked on your goodreads last month and just read Wednesday Wars and Cheaper by the Dozen. 🙂 The main thing about that kind of book club is you just do what Sheyenne said. Pick what you like and know that not everyone will love it. And who cares. But you're exposing people to books they wouldn't normally read themselves. That's the reason I do book club. So even if I don't like a book, I'm glad to have the exposure to other stuff. I'm excited to read your pick!

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