Why is it so hard to choose a book for a book group?

Ever since joining my first book group a few months ago I have been trying to decide which book I should pick when my turn arrives. I think that I am over analysing it, as 5 months on I still haven’t managed to think of a good book. I don’t have a problem thinking of books that I want to read, but trying to find one for a group of people is so hard.

Here is a brief summary of the rejection process I have gone through:

  1. Too long
  2. Too expensive
  3. Too long
  4. Out of print
  5. Out of print
  6. Too expensive
  7. Too complicated
  8. Out of print

Help! I am running out of ideas!

Do you have trouble deciding which book to choose for a book group?

I want to find something which has a great plot, lots to discuss and which none of the group will have read. Bearing in mind that half the group are bloggers I am finding that difficult – hence the out of print/too expensive (newly published) books.

Am I trying to do too hard?

Is the perfect book out there?

If you have any suggestions for me – please let me know!

50 replies on “Why is it so hard to choose a book for a book group?”

I’m chuckling! I have yet to choose for my group either, but I know I will have the same issue. You will be shamed and heartbroken if you pick a dud, right? Plus I think your group is slightly more “literary” than my group, so that ups the ante. So far, my group have picked stuff just north of trash. Anything I pick will be better than anything I’ve read there so far. Still, I worry whether THEY will like it. I think the personality of the group is important to consider.

What about something like Olive Kitteridge? Or maybe My Cousin Rachel? Or something well written but with controversy, like Columbine? Or hey! Here’s an idea! The Problem with Murmur Lee by my friend Connie? Or pick something way off the path, like true crime. How about a Murakami book?

I was thinking the other day that when my pick comes around for my group, I’d ask YOU! Haha!

Sandy, The problem with so many of your choices is that I bet half the group will have read them and Connie isn’t published in the UK. You did jog my memory about another book I’d forgotten about, but I’ve just checked and it is too expensive. Thanks for all the suggestions – hopefully they will inspire me soon.

Violet, I can imagine that discussion could go on a long time! I think it is better that we each take it in turns to pick a book and accept that we aren’t all going to agree with each choice.

Jackie, I was thinking the other day that since you are choosing for December, what about something Christmas themed? That may give you an interesting avenue to go down to find something suitable; I’d have a look at Christmas-centric blog posts for suggestions. Just an idea.

Claire, Is it my turn to choose next, or am I chosing at the December group? I did think about Christmas choices. I’ll have a look and see if it turns up anything interesting.

Claire, I thought I had another month to chose! I think I’m going to have to find something I already own, as I don’t want to have to rely on the post. Perhaps limiting it to my shelves will help to focus me!

I don’t know if the perfect book is out there or not. We all have such varied tastes in our group that I can get away with picking something from my shelf knowing that no one else has read it.

Our book for next month is out of print and hard to find and it kind of irks me–wish the girl had realized that before making the pick. Also a newish book that isn’t out in paperback isn’t a good idea–hard for some to find it in the library and too expensive for those of us who purchase.

Trish, So many of the books I want to read are out of print. I didn’t realise how many were until I started checking them, but agree that it isn’t a good idea for a book group.

I think you over-think it. Not everybody has read as many books as you have 🙂
How about some on banned books list? Banned books usually have things to discuss about. Sorry I don’t have much experience for book club too.

ps: Can’t believe you’ve already finished Dracula! I’m only halfway through and it’s been a week!

mee, That is a great idea! I’ll have a look at the list. I agree that I do tend to over think these things – I like to think I am able to suggest a book for any occasion, but I think I am trying to find something too obscure. I’lltry to find something that appeals and hope no one else has read it.

mee, PS. It took me about 3 days to finish Dracula (just over 100 pages a day) I can see why it might take a long time though – that middle section is soooo boring!

I wouldnt get too stressed about it, dont worry about what we might all be thinking and just choose what you want to read or it sort fo defeats the point as we are all bringing in books we want to read. If others have read them thats no great shakes the only rule is that it needsto be under £9! Ha!

I like the idea of having to read books I would never have shown interest in or heard of and so far the selections been great. There are sooooo many books out there. i have a list of about ten and my next choice isnt until next year ha!

Simon, Don’t worry – I am not stressed about it! I am enjoying thinking up books, but just annoyed that so many of my great ideas are out of print or too expensive. I’ll think of something good soon!

Jackie, I think that’s an excellent set of criteria with the possible exception of too complicated – I say possible exception because it will depend entirely on the make-up of the group (for some groups not complicated enough would do it).

My suggestion (but I’m aware it’s only a reflection of my taste) would be to choose one of the great “in translation” novellas that Waterstone’s is so good at spotting – something like Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, or Marie Darriessecq’s Breathig Underwater or – because I was surprised how few people had heard of it – Josephine Hart’s Damage (happily now back in print, even if “Sin” seems permanently unavailable)

Dan, Thank you for the suggestions. I am going to have to read a Josephine Hart book soon as you do keep dropping her name everywhere! I love the idea of a book in translation, but all the ones I look at seem to be too expensive – I am beginning to realise that I do have a taste for expensive fiction! I have read a lot of Banana Yoshimoto and I think they are bit short/simple for a book group. I love them, but I don’t think there is enough to keep us talking for that long.

I’m pleased to discover that you are an over thinker too! It is nice to not be alone!

Oh, and I don’t think you over-think at all, but maybe that’s because I’m a fellow over-thinker. Choosing a book for a book group is lke choosing the menu for a dinner party or the wine for someone’s engagement party.

I sympathize with your plight! I was going to suggest The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – there’s a lot there to think about – but I expect everyone’s already read it. Tricky.

Funny, this novel was suggested to me when I mentioned having to choose our last read. I’d just go for something that you really want to read that is 1) within the price limit 2) is easy to obtain.

Claire/Jenny, I had this book suggested to me recently too! I am going to have to find a copy and see why everyone keeps suggesting it!

When it comes to choosing for my book club, we try to use two guidelines. The book must not be too long and it must not be a new release. Most of my book club members get their books from the library, so a book that has just been released is too hard to get ahold of. Other than that, we’re pretty open.

Stephanie, We haven’t got a length rule, but I think it is like an unwritten rule. I wouldn’t like to be the first to break it, as although I don’t mind reading long books I think some of the others might object.

Our group meets at the library, so we rely on library copies of books. Plus, we don’t rotate books. Once a year, everyone submits suggestions and I pull from each list and organize a year’s worth of books. Maybe it’s easier because it’s a classics group?

Amanda, I’m sure that you have it a lot easier being a classics group. We have so many different ones to chose from! My online Booker group works in the same way as yours, but I do like having the outright choice at this group – it gives us a chance to get a feel for each member’s book taste.

I do have similar issues when it comes to our book club as well. One thing we agreed on from the outset was to only select books that are out in paperback to help offset costs – additionally, I always try to select something that can be borrowed through our library system, but that may just be me. More annoyingly, we put a cap on the length of the book – many people didn’t want to read anything longer than 300 pages, which I find really restrictive! I can understand not everyone wanting to read a 600 pg book in a month, but I think 350 pages, or even 400 should be doable.

Also, I wouldn’t worry about some people having read the book before – after all, the reading is only half of the equation, the other half is discussion! I’ve attended book club for books I’ve read before (such is the case this month with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime), and it’s never hindered my enjoyment.

One thing my group does do, however, is each month someone is responsible for organizing the meeting and selecting 3 books to pitch to the group (which is done over email). Everyone writes back with their top choice, and that’s what gets selected. This way there isn’t a whole lot of agonizing, but everyone feels they got some say in what gets picked. This could be something you consider, since it doesn’t have to lead to a unanimous choice or even a lot of discussion.

Steph, It is interesting to hear how your book group works. I’m not sure it really matters how each one works, as long as it is fair and everyone enjoys turning up!

You are right about worrying about whether people have read it or not – the discussion is the main thing and I should forget about that.

Gosh – very stressful – you have put yourself under a lot of pressure with trying to find something that is easily available too! I completely empathise though, it would be horrible to choose something that no-one enjoys. When I was in a bookgroup, I chose 3 books in Borders (so I knew that they were available) that I hadn’t read and took them all along and got the rest of the group to chose.

How about a more obscure book by a well known author? E.g. lots of people have read Rebecca, but what about Julius or I’ll never be young again by Daphne Du Maurier.

Before our neighborhood book club fell apart (looooong story) I had suggested – as a one time thing – that we read one well-known “classic” and then a biography on that author and do the two books at the next meeting. I had thought reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” and then “Mockingbird” (the biography of Harper Lee). Most of the members hadn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” since high school and no one but me had read “Mockingbird”. They liked the idea of a classic and then biography of the author.

Our group, too, had rules that the book had to be available in paperback or at the library (without waiting months), not too long (less than 400 pp – not my idea, but everyone liked that), and had to have at least 4 stars on Amazon so that we would most probably all enjoy it at least enough to get through it!

Beh, I haven’t read Mockingbird (or even heard of it before your comment!) I think that sounds interesting and will try to find a copy soon.

Your rules sound good – apart from the 4 stars on Amazon. There are a lot of great books which only have 3 stars, the rating system is a bit weird and some of the best books are ones which cause a love-hate divide. I don’t mind whether I enjoy the book or not, as long as the discussion is good.

I may use some of these suggestions myself–or else quit my book club. I hate it when it’s my turn to pick, and I’ve started to figure out why: at our last meeting, several members revealed that they use People magazine to choose their books. A member actually turned to me and said she didn’t want to have to read anything that would make her think. ARE YOU KIDDING?, I thought. Good grief. To be fair, several of our members are very thoughtful and choose great books, but it’s next to impossible to choose a book for a group with that kind of range.

Sorry. It felt good to vent, though. 🙂 That said, how about a story collection? Those can be quite good because it’s always interesting to hear what stories everyone liked (or not) and why.

Priscilla, I’m sorry to hear that you are having problems with your book group – it is so hard when everyone has a different taste in books.

A short story collection would be an interesting choice, but as I’m not a big fan of them I’ll wait until someone else decides to pick one!

I have a hard time selecting when it’s my turn too. The other members in the group aren’t as willing to buy books and take risks as I would like. So my choices are fairly limited, especially if I want to read something shiny and new. But they are dear women and I enjoy our time together.

We do present 2 choices and let the group vote which takes some of the pressure off. And it has to be a book we’ve already read. I have my own length rule in part because I’m lazy and because large books tend to intimidate the group – and I want them to read it.

We had awesome discussions on Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart, and Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Memoirs are always good choices too.

Hope this helps – let us know what you pick!

melanie, I know what you mean – although my book group seems to be very tolerant of different choices, I think I am a lot more adventurous and willing to spend money on books than some of the others.

Thank you for the suggestions!

I can sympathize with your situation. I will be hosting my book club in January and I am trying to find a book that will be interesting to all the members. I belong to 2 other book clubs and one is notorious for choosing books that are 500+ pages. Which can be quite daunting to some members. One member likes Jane Austen, one hates it; one member likes sci-fi, I can’t handle it; one member likes poetry, another doesn’t. And on and on. I suspect I will try to find a book that is in the 300-350 page range and is easily obtainable by everyone (i.e either available at the library or relatively inexpensive to buy). Decisions, decisions!

I’m resigned to the fact that not everyone will like the book I choose. It’s just the way it will work out so I’m trying not to obsess too much about it.

Good Luck!

Baba, It sounds as though you have a much more diverse group than we do, so probably have a harder choice than me. I think our group have reasonably similar tastes, although there are a few differences I’m not worried about readig a book chosen by any of them.

Here are a few titles that our book group read, and there was lots of discussion and most liked the books:

Snow in August; Hamill; Resistance; Anita Shreve; and Loving Frank; Nancy Horan .

It is tough to find something that most have not read; good luck.

The way you rate the books you review, Jackie, could act as a guideline for your choice, the 5 star rated being top of the list and then onto 4 1/2 stars etc. I think you should love the book you offer to the group because, as mentioned earlier, the discussion is possibly the best bit of being in a book group and if you love a book enough to rate it as high as 5 stars (or 4 1/2) you are likely to have a lot to say about it.

Kim, That is true, although I think that we are supposed to choose books which we haven’t read before, so it is hard to know whether I will love it or not.

Ah! So now I understand why you are finding this to be so difficult. OK, so, if you haven’t read it I would recommend Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. A very unexpected book for it’s time and the public condemnation Hardy received after it was published caused him to give up writing novels for the rest of his life. That’s worth a discussion in itself! Good luck with your selection.

How about something like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America? Alternate realities around World War II should generate a fair bit of discussion. I’m planning on starting Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle soon, and that’s another alternate reality, where the Nazis won the War.

I’ve come rather late to this discussion, but I wouldn’t worry too much if one or two have read a book before – I never mind re-reading a book for our book group.

We go for variety – we try to read totally different books from month to month (however general themes do emerge over time – dystopian books are faves of ours). We’re going to discuss Jonathan Coe’s ‘What a carve up’ in November which should be fun. The way we pick our books is fairly random – members pitch in ideas and we pick one after a short discussion. We used to pick one at a time, but some people found it too hard to choose, then we all wrote our picks and drew a title from the hat – but we always picked the ‘wrong’ one!

I think you’re making it too hard on yourself. In my opinion you need a well written book with will spark a good conversation. From this year I’d pick Elegance of the Hedgehog or Netherland. However, the best discussions I’ve had are The Known World or Sand and Fog. Another option is to pair a classic and a modern novel, a fun choice is The Great Gatsby and The Double Bind.

Looking over the list, it is distinctly American other than Hedgehog, I wonder how a different audience would react.

The official rules for my bookclub are pretty simple. It has to be fiction (because we are a fiction bookclub) and the book has be out on paperback (to help with expense). When I pick one, I also try to make sure that it’s a book that will stir discussion.

Jodi Picoult’s books are good discussion books because she tackles a lot of complex social issues. We’ve had a good discussion when we read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

I’m sure you have 100s of suggestions by now but I can relate to your dilemma. This was the problem I had with the one book club I was in — picking a good book that would “fit” in with everyone’s likes/dislikes etc. If they didn’t like it, I felt completely responsible. Of course, I didn’t put that pressure on the others and their choices so I suspect you might be thinking too hard about it! Trust your gut!

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