How to Pick a Book for Book Club (and My Top 5 Titles)

how-to-pick-a-bookI mentioned a while back that I’ve turned into a serial book club member. The same love of bookish discussion that keeps me attending multiple book clubs each month fills me with equal parts eagerness and dread when it’s my turn to pick the book. I would love to hear how you choose. Do you go with a personal favorite or something that fits the month or season? Have you ever picked a book you haven’t read first? To kick start the discussion, here is my tried and true method for picking books (and my top 5 favorite book club books):

Pick a book you feel strongly about. My favorite book clubs read books all over the literary spectrum. While I love the variety, there are some picks that I would never read if left to my own. Hearing a friend descrive a book as her favorite book of all time/a book that changed her perspective/the only book she’s ever thrown across the room is the kick in the pants I need to read outside my comfort zone.

Pick a book you’ve read (and read recently). There are so many books that I thought would make great picks until I read them. It’s so much easier to give content warnings and discuss the finer points of scenes and characters if you’ve read the book this year. I should add that I’ve broken my own rule in small book clubs. I’m part of a book club now with just a handful of childhood friends, and it’s been fun to read books that are new to all of us. (That said, we’ve ended up with some duds because of it…including my most recent pick!)

Pick something accessible. There are so many ways to read this rule. I love fantasy novels, but plenty of people in my book club(s) don’t. I don’t shy away from picking them (see rule #1), but I’ve found more success choosing something with a touch of magic instead of a full-blown magical system. The same principle can apply to non-fiction, biographies, murder mysteries, or literary fiction. Choose something that’s an easy introduction to the genre rather than a Serious Book. (Unless of course you’re part of a Serious Book Club. If so, carry on.) Depending on your book club, it is also worth considering the length and availabiltiy of the book. Anything over about 250 pages tends to make people nervous, although that’s not a hard and fast rule; a really fabulous book is worth extra time spent reading. As for availability, stick to whatever budget the members set at the begining, purchase a few copies to pass around yourself, or choose something with multiple copies at the local library. Nothing kills a discussion quite like no one having read the book.

Bonus points if the story features delicious food. Every book club is improved by delicious food. You will look like a rockstar if the treats are inspired by a scene from the book.

So what books do I think fit? That will depend on what kind of reader you are, but here are 5 I’ve felt good about choosing in the past:

  1. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is always my go-to pick. It’s easy to read, old enough that it’s easy to find, and full of things to discuss. I’ve picked it for 3 book clubs so far, and each discussion has been completely different. Plus, I’m much kinder to my husband, children, and siblings every time I read this book, so I don’t mind reading it again and again.
  2. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta is my very favorite book. It’s a bit of a stretch for people who don’t read fantasy, but I feel like I’m sharing a little bit of myself every time I recommend it. When I feel nervous about recommending something magical, I sometimes opt for another of Marchetta’s books: Jellicoe Road or Saving Francesca. Both are contemporary YA fiction and have many of the qualities I love in Finnikin.
  3. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell is a great choice for a non-fiction pick. Like most non-fiction worth its salt, there is a lot to think about. What really sets Gladwell’s book apart from other non-fiction I’ve read is that it doesn’t feel at all like a research paper. Another entertaining choice for non-fiction is anything by Mary Roach.
  4. For any Christian book clubs, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis is a fantastic choice. I borrowed a friend’s copy in college and liked it so much that I didn’t return it for over 5 years. The book is a pretty quick read, reading more like a story than a religious treatise, but there’s plenty to discuss about the nature of our relationship with God and how we look at agency and salvation.
  5. The Book Thief is a perfect example of easing into a difficult genre. The way Zusak employs Death as the narrator is classic literary fiction, but the characters are so compelling that even readers who avoid Serious Books can’t put it down. My sister sent me a copy when I was going through a difficult time, and this book is forever tied to that experience for me. If your book club hasn’t met its quota of WWII books yet this year, I can’t recommend The Book Thief enough.

I would love to hear what works for you and your book club. Are there any suggestions I missed? What are your favorite picks?

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