How We Pick Book Club Books

“I’m curious about how you choose your titles for the year. I’d love to hear a little about that process. (I love that my book club, mostly teachers, chooses our titles for the year every September. But it’s so hard to choose just a handful of books when there are so many we want to read and discuss.)”

Good question, Ms. Orr!

We used to just pick a few books every few months. The leader at that time was a guy named Al. Now by “leader,” I mean the guy you’d give your email address to and he would send out the monthly reminder. Since we were meeting at The Little Shop of Stories and the membership fluctuated, Al would often get a new guy to pick a book, thinking it would keep the guy coming back. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. The point of the book club for him was to get out of his reading rut and try all kinds of different things so we were encouraged to go nuts. There have always been only two rules: a book pick has to be in paperback and it can’t have been an Oprah pick.

When Al moved, he handed over the reins (or the email list) to Raphael. Raphael started this “picking for the whole year” thing. I admit that at first I was skeptical. I don’t usually like reading from a list and thought it would kill the spontaneity of the group. And what if you really wanted a certain book and they didn’t pick it that year. It’d be forever until you could bring it up again!

His idea was that by picking them for the whole year, the bookstore would offer us a bulk discount to anyone who bought the whole year’s worth of books at once.

It turns out that it has many other benefits as well. We now know that come November we will be be picking books so there’s incentive to be at that meeting. There’s still definitely a priority given to those present.

Come October we’ll start bandying about title ideas and some try to share them in the group email.  But you really need to be there for the November meeting if you have a pony in the race.

One of the big benefits is that there’s no more “I don’t know, what do you want to read?” When you know we’re picking books for the year, you bring some suggestions. If every guy only brings one or two and there’s a dozen guys, we’re flush with ideas. Sometimes there is as many as thirty or forty titles on the long list.

That’s one thing I do. Whenever anyone mentions a possible title throughout the year I jot it down. After the October meeting (where more titles are often mentioned) I’ll send out the long list I’ve created in a Google doc. I list title, author, genre, number of pages and goodreads rating. People make fun of me for being the list-making-librarian but it helps to have this stuff written down on the day we pick.

On the big day, it’s all pretty informal but really fun. We’ll kinda go around the table and talk about a couple of books we think would be good and why. Usually a few guys bring in a few books to pass around. No, those aren’t always on the long list. They love to be spontaneous. It’s okay; it works out.

Now I know the original question was about having too many choices and I haven’t yet said how this process helps that. But since we like to have a variety of genres, it makes it a little easier. We have a lot of guys interested in music and there’s usually a few music biographies. We’ll tackle those as a group. “Well, I’d say the Keith Richards book is a bit long-winded but I haven’t read the new Dylan” for example. So we’ll narrow it down that way. Which of these four science fiction novels do we want to go with? Which of these six poets? Which of these three non-fiction history books?

It’ll depend, of course, on which one seems to be more “discussable.” It helps if the person pushing for theirs has read it and can describe why they think it would be a good pick. And passion definitely counts. We don’t fight or argue but of someone if is super passionate about a pick it usually makes the list. The one guy who always loves to throw in a classic had The Iliad and James Joyce’s Ulysses up. We pretty much unanimously chose The Iliad over Ulysses.

Then Raphael goes home and cogitates over the list and decides what month would be better for what book.

Yes, there’s always way more books than we want to read but that’s okay. The point of the book club is having an interesting book to discuss and this works. Having too many books to get to is a nice problem to have and insures the longevity of the club I hope.

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One thought on “How We Pick Book Club Books

  1. This sounds surprisingly similar to what we do – except we don’t have a list-making librarian ahead of the meeting. That would be hugely helpful!

    I also think we aren’t as thoughtful about genre as you all seem to be. That’s something that would be useful. We had one year during which we read, at least, three books about World War II. Given that we only meet 10 months of the year, that was a bit excessive.

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