Discussions Other

Bad book group choices?

When I was researching titles to add to my recent 101 Book Group Choices post I was forced to think hard about which books created good discussions. I found this article about writing for book groups by Amanda Ross (famous for choosing books for Richard and Judy and now The TV Book Club) but am not sure that this advice is different from that given to any author.  It sounds as though she is just describing a good book; one which is original and has a great plot.

Is there any difference between a good book and a good book club choice? 

Are there any fantastic books which make terrible book club choices?

Photo by Horia Varlan, Flickr

When I was compiling my list of books I was trying to include books which contained moral issues which are often thought provoking and in theory promote discussion, but in my book group discussion of the moral issues hasn’t occurred and I have a feeling that it could create argument rather than discussion in a lot of groups. I find talking about the characters more interesting than discussing the pros/cons of abortion, euthanasia or other hotly debated topics.

Should book group choices contain moral issues?



Every single one of my book group’s discussions has been enjoyable. Some have been slightly more successful than others, but I sometimes wonder if it really matters what book is chosen – I think we could talk about any book. That may be because half of us are book bloggers with an extreme passion for books, or perhaps we just haven’t come across a bad book group choice yet.

Is it possible to chose a bad book, or can people who are passionate about books create a good discussion whatever is chosen?

Which books didn’t work for your book club? Why?

Other Recommended books

101 Book Group Choices Guaranteed to Provoke Discussion

Choosing a book for a reading group is hard, but I’ve compiled this list of books to help you make that difficult decision. I think the majority of people will enjoy them and, more importantly for any book group, they will create an interesting discussion. This list is a combination of books I’ve read and those that have worked well for other book groups in the past. I hope you find it useful!

My Personal Favourites

Out – Natsuo Kirino
The Ghosts of Eden – Andrew Sharp
The Other Hand – Chris Cleave
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
Random Acts of Heroic Love – Danny Scheinmann
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Strain – Guillermo del Toro
Little Face – Sophie Hannah
Ingenious Pain – Andrew Miller

Award Winners

Disgrace – J.M Coetzee
The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
The Secret River – Kate Grenville
Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
The Bone People – Keri Hulme
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Dwarf – Par Lagerkvist
Blindness – Jose Saramago
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Good Earth – Pearl Buck
Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

Long, but Worth It

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
Stone’s Fall – Iain Pears
Fall on Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald
Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese
The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean Auel
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Books You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

The Myth of You and Me – Leah Stewart
Snow in August – Peter Hamill
Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire – David Mura
The Blind Side of the Heart – Julia Franck
Under This Unbroken Sky – Shandi Mitchell
The Ginger Tree – Oswald Wynd
The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammett
Stolen Lives – Malika Oufkir
Right of Thirst – Frank Huylar
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
Cane River – Lailita Tademy
Gap Creek – Robert Morgan
Loving Frank – Nancy Horan

Recent Releases

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni
Rupture – Simon Lelic
Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan
The Rapture – Liz Jensen
Legend of a Suicide – David Vann
The Girl with Glass Feet – Ali Shaw
The Island at the End of the World – Sam Taylor
The City & The City – China Mieville
Generation A – Douglas Coupland
Pocket Notebook – Mike Thomas
The Infinities – John Banville
The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
Still Alice – Lisa Genova
The Vagrants – Yiyun Li
The Chosen One – Carol Lynch Williams
Rooftops of Tehran – Mahbod Seraji

The Calligrapher’s Daughter – Eugenia Kim
The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist

The Best of the Rest

Eating Air – Pauline Melville
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – William Kamkwamba
Ella Minnow Pea – Mark Dunn
The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
The World According to Garp – John Irving
Unless – Carol Shields
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield
The Seance – John Harwood
Mudbound – Hilary Jordan
The Blood of Flowers – Anita Amirrezvani
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Flowers For Algernon – Daniel Keyes
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher – Kate Summerscale
The Behaviour of Moths – Poppy Adams
Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
The End of Mr. Y – Scarlett Thomas
The Devil in the White City – Eric Larson
Uglies – Scott Westerfield
Resistance – Anita Shreve
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
The Woman in the Dunes – Kobo Abe
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
Q and A – Vikas Swarup
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
Persepolis – Majane Satrapi
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
The Visit of the Royal Physician – Per Olov Enquist
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

Which books have worked well at your book group?

Have any of the books in the above list failed to charm your book group?

2010 Fantasy

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Ruby’s Spoon is an atmospheric book with a fairy-tale feel. The story is set in a small town called Cradle Cross, famous for it’s button factory. The residents of the town are disturbed by the arrival of Isa, a strange woman who is searching for her sister. Ruby is drawn towards Isa and offers to help in the search, secretly hoping that she will be rewarded with a journey on the sea.

The majority of the book feels as though it is set in our world, but then something slightly out of the ordinary will happen; I was left wondering whether the mention of mermaids, witches and other strange events meant that it is actually set in a parellel universe.  

I loved the imagery in the book and there were some beautifully touching passages: 

“My daughter drowned before her had a birthday. My grief is here; this handkerchief. I’ve worked her letters here, fine stitches in the corner, but look at all the rest of it, this empty space that says what might have been.” “Yes, yo were blessed with grief so small that yo can keep it in your pocket. My son was fully grown when I lost him to the War. My grief is larger than a sail.”

The dialect did take a short amount of time to get used to, but after a few pages I enjoyed the added atmosphere that it gave to the book.

The plot was straightforward, but strangely mesmerizing. The bizarre nature of some scenes meant that you never really knew what would happen next. I found the ending a bit of an anti-climax, but overall it was an enjoyable read.

The book is very well written and packed with symbolism and underlying themes. The originality and depth of this book make it a perfect for a book group choice. I’d love to discuss some of the aspects of this book, so if you’ve read it please comment below.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys books which are slightly out of the ordinary.


Have you read Ruby’s Spoon?

Did the mermaid exist?

What made Isa a witch?

2009 Recommended books Short Story

Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

Legend of a Suicide is a book which is hard to classify. It has been described as a collection of short stories and is now being marketed as a novel. I think the truth is that this book is similar to Olive Kitteridge, in that it is a very successful book of interconnected short stories.

The book follows Roy, a young boy whose father commits suicide. The emotion in this book is pitched perfectly. The suicide of the author’s own father enables him to give us an insight into the real, conflicting emotions experienced by a child put into this terrible situation. This book shows us how immersing a child into the dark, adult world is such a bewildering experience – one they don’t have the knowledge to handle.

There was nothing Roy could think of to say, so he didn’t say anything. But he wondered why they were here at all, when everything important to his father was somewhere else. It didn’t make sense to Roy that his father had come out here. It was beginning to seem that maybe he just hadn’t been able to think of any other way of living that might be better. So this was just a big fallback plan, and Roy too, was part of a large despair that lived everywhere his father went.

The first few stories were slightly disjointed, in that I couldn’t follow the narrative, but once I reached the novella of their trip into the Alaskan wilderness I was completely hooked. I found the book impossible to put down and I read the rest in a single sitting.

The writing was vivid, emotionally charged and thought-provoking. I think that this book might help relatives of suicide victims to be able to cope with their loss and it should also be read by anyone who feels that suicide is a good option, as it is the best demonstration of the devastation a suicide brings to a family I have ever seen. The number of issues raised and the power of this story make it perfect for reading groups too.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves books which are packed with emotion.



Eating Air – Pauline Melville

Eating Air is a very unusual novel and I am still unsure as to whether I enjoyed it or not.

The book centres on a strange couple – Ella, a dancer with the Royal Ballet and Donny, a violent anarchist. It isn’t long before they become involved in illegal acts and start to form relationships with  terrorists. Spanning 30 years and several countries, this is an ambitious novel, which confused me as much as it shocked and entertained me.

The characters were evil and impossible to like. They swore continually and, although there wasn’t a great deal of violence, they discussed it and made light of horrific acts. The book did contain a lot of humor, but I  felt uneasy about some of the jokes. 

‘Personally, I always use violence to obtain my objectives. And that’s what will happen when I die. People will stand up and have one minute’s violence.’ He let out a cackle.

There were a large number of characters, which meant that I sometimes lost track of who each one was and it also took me a while to realise that the story had flipped back/forward in time, as there was nothing to indicate this at the start of each chapter.

The writing was beautiful though. I loved the vivid descriptions which were present throughout the book.

To his left on the English Channel a fluffy grey angora haze blotted out the horizon. The milky sea gave slow sluggish sucks at the shore.

The ending had a profound effect on me – I predicted it in advance, but when it finally occurred, it was much more powerful than I ever imagined. I think I will remember it for a long time.

Pauline Melville is clearly a talented writer and I think it was mainly the subject matter that caused me to struggle with this book. I am keen to read The Ventriloquist’s Tale, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, as I am sure I will enjoy it much more.

If you are interested in the lives of terrorists, then this book would be an interesting choice. The originality of this book should not be ignored and, as it contained a number of thought-provoking issues, this book would be a great choice for a tolerant book group.


Have you read any  Pauline Melville’s books?

Can you enjoy a book where all the characters are evil?


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!