How do you choose a book for book group?

book for book group


It’s a choice up there with what to name your children or what colour to paint your house, only more important – what book am I going to recommend to book group when it’s my turn to choose?

The first time it was my choice, I went for a book I had read and really enjoyed – Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont. It’s set in Brighton where we live – even our local curry house gets a mention. The main character is a taxi driver, as is one of the members of the book group. How could it fail?

Actually, it did OK, but a few people had mixed feelings. And every time a criticism was murmured of the book I loved, I felt like I was being stabbed in the eye.

After that I decided that it was best for my sanity was to choose something I hadn’t read before, so I wouldn’t take it so personally if somebody didn’t like it.

So I went for Me Cheeta by James Lever which was well-recieved, apart from those members of our group who were rather turned off by the monkey sex. Too vulgar, apparently. You can’t please every body.

My next choice coincided with a Brighton Festival-linked initiative to get all of Brighton reading From Russia With Love, with free copies all over the city. They do that kind of thing round here. We didn’t like it much. Blame the council.

After that I thought it was time to big up the local authors, so I went for (the very good) Contact by Jonathan Buckley. I like the idea of supporting current, local authors. Especially now I’ve got a book out myself, you know that every bit of word of mouth support matters.

But I don’t like to be predictable, so my next choice was Room by Emma Donoghue, which seemed to be the novel of the moment which everybody apart from the members of our book group had read.

And now this week my turn to host and choose has come round again and I am all of a kerfuffle and don’t know what to go for.

Is it time for a classic? Should I be brave and revisit a book I’ve read before? Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which I loved, is out in paperback, maybe that’s the one? I’m going to make lemon cake, which takes me neatly into The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake but maybe that’s too obvious. Plus if we start theming the evening around the book then we’ll all have to squat on the floor if somebody chooses The Tiny Wife.

I just don’t know, what do you suggest?

  • oh thank you I’ll take a look at that. Yes non fiction is allowed – anything’s allowed really as long as it looks like something people will enjoy reading.

  • Deb

    It is tricky – sometimes I don’t put much thought into it TBH and sometimes I do. My last choice was The Immortal Life of Hemrietta Lacks which was amazing. One member said it was life changing. It’s immersive non-fiction and is utterly compelling.

    Other books our group has enjoyed have been: Atonement, The Other Hand, A Fine Balance (amazing book but long) and Love on the Dole (loved this one). They were chosen by others.

    I don’t always pick crackers – I loved I Capture the Castle which someone said was too much like a children’s book. And I won’t recommend my favourite poet because I couldn’t stand hearing her criticized but the anthology of poems I chose one Xmas went down well.

    Phew! HTH xx

  • I’ve been waxing lyrical about The Happiness Project on my blog, it’s non-fiction though, is that allowed? It’s a perfect New Year book though.

  • Thanks so much Deb & Tamsin – the problem I am finding is that there are just too many good books to choose from! Plus a lot of the ones I like from last year were big fat bricks and just too long to inflict on book group. Will think on!

  • It’s tricky when you choose a book/author you really like but the group don’t agree isn’t it! Although some of our best discussions have been when the group was really divided between loving and hating the book. A Fine Balance was popular at our group too.

    We had our review of the year at book group last week and we all felt that there hadn’t been so many cracking books on our 2011 list. We talked about maybe reading Booker nominees, or Orange Prize winners. Books I’ve set over the yrs that were well received include Oryx & Crake and Never Let Me Go

  • That sounds easier Jacq, when there’s not an obvious contender. Thanks for the suggestion, I might do that.

  • We take turns hosting. The person who hosts choses three books they’d like to read and the groups votes on which one to go with.

  • We usually print out a sheet including title, author, how many pages! and a brief synopsis( stolen from amazon).
    Some people end up reading all three!

  • Oh that is very organised Jacq. I have just ordered The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as recommended by Deb, but it turns out it won’t arrive before Thursday so I still have time to change my mind!

  • Suki

    It can be quite tricky; our book group has been going for 10 years now, with a number of departures (due to moving away) and new members. We have a challenge in that one person is very dominant and self opinionated: she either loves or hates a book and isn’t prepared to listen to other people’s views. We take turns choosing the book and these are planned a few months in advance to give the local library the chance to order in a set of books.
    We make a point of including a non-fiction in our planning and have introduced ‘graphic books’, which is interesting, as well as a classic every year to contrast the modern literature. We have also introduced one month a year where everyone brings their favourite book to encourage someone else to read it. There hasn’t been TOO much blood on the carpet after that!

  • oh wow Suki, you lot sound super-organised, maybe that’s why it works.