Wednesday, July 10, 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?

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