Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lit: Best Books For Book Club Discussions

I've been a member of the Omaha Bookworms for more than four years now and during that time I've learned a thing or two about what makes a good selection for book clubs. Well, at least what makes a good selection for the Bookworms. Nearly all of the books we read now have been read and recommended by one of our members to make sure the book is "discussion worthy." Can you tell that we've had experience with books that weren't?!

Here's what we've learned:

1. It's not necessary for everyone to like the book. In fact, some of our best discussions have happened when there were widely differing opinions about the book. None of the Bookworms loved this book and I can't tell you how much we disliked Frank Lloyd Wright by the time we got done. did make us talk!

2. Happily ever after endings aren't necessarily the best choices. Books with endings that leave the reader wondering also make for a lot of opinions as to what might have happened.

3. It helps if the readers can relate to the characters. This doesn't necessarily mean they like the character or share a lot in common with the character. Olive Kitteredge was no one's favorite person but she was a wife and mother as most of us were and we all had opinions about the kind of wife and mother she was.

Ami McKay's The Birth House was full of characters we could relate to with most of us being mothers and all of us being women. Probably the best discussion we have ever had - we talked about the story, the characters, the ways we were able to relate the book to our own lives.

4. Books should be "doable." We meet monthly so we choose books between 300-400 pages. Everyone is busy and even this is pushing it for some of our members.

5. No fluff, no formulas. There's just not enough to talk about in these books. This isn't to say that, for example, chick lit is out of the mix. It just needs to be chick lit with something deeper to think about. Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon is definitely chick lit but with something different that provided plenty to talk about. What happens when that married man actually does leave his wife?

6. Variety. Having the same conversation month after month can get dull. Every year we read a classic, an award winner, and a nonfiction title. This also helps to ensure that we're reading books that appeal to every member at some point in the year. One of best discussions ever was last year's discussion of Laura Hildenbrand's Unbroken.

7. Choose books with issues that don't have cut and dried answers.The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks addresses a lot of issues, many of them without clear cut answers, most notably the use of human medical waste for research.

8. Learn something new. Choose books from other parts of the world. Mahbod Seraji's Rooftops of Tehran not only taught us about another culture and its history but it also highlighted how much we have in common with people all over the world.

Finally, be willing to take chances with books and come to meetings with ideas about discussion topics. It's not enough just to ask "did you like the book?" Think about character interactions, settings, decisions made, how you might have responded in similar circumstances.

Some other books that have generated good discussions for us were:

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (the Bookworms have actually read this one twice!)
What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

Are you a member of a book club? If so, what books have made for the best discussions with your group? Do you have any suggestions for books or for picking a book?


  1. When I was in a book club there was always a debate between doing books we loved and wanted everyone else to read because they would love it, versus books good for discussion. And truly, when everyone loved a book (like Cutting for Stone) there wasn't much to say except "I loved it!"

  2. And I have the first three of these books on my stacks! Yay! I agree -- happy endings not necessary, whole group doesn't need to like it. Varied opinions can be the key to a great discussion.

  3. Those are great insights! I'll keep these in mind when I join a fabulous book club like yours!

  4. I completely agree with everything you said! We've done a couple of fluffy chick lit books, and they were complete failures (as far as a good discussion goes). One of our best discussions was with State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and it was due in large part to the great divide it created among book club members (some of us loved it, some of us hated it, so it provided a LOT of things to talk about!).

    Unbroken and The Immortal Life were two of our best discussion books also!

  5. Love love love this post Lisa! And I wish I lived closer so that I could join the Bookworms! I'm part of two book clubs and the books have been really hit or miss. I think part of the problem is we don't have a good method of actually choosing the book. And the worst thing you can do is begin the discussion with "What did everyone think?" which just leads to opinions and division rather than actually discussing the meat. Poisonwood Bible is one I'd love to read again. Loved that one.

  6. I wish I belonged to an amazing book club! You have such great books listed above. I've read a handful but I'm super curious about The Birth House. Off to look that one up right now :)

  7. Lots of good advice! My book club has a system for choosing books that's worked pretty well -- whoever most disliked the most recent book we read gets to pick the next book. That person chooses three possible books, and we all vote. It's a good system! We nearly always end up with a book with plenty to discuss.

  8. Love your thoughts on what makes a good book club selection and agree with each one. I'm in a book club online but I would love to be able to meet with fellow book lovers and have in-depth conversations about great book!