Building Better Book Clubs: How To Decide What Your Club Reads Next

November 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

is a series of posts focused on all things book club related: discussions, listicles, how to’s and more!


 

One the most controversial topics when participating in a book club is deciding what book you will all read next. Depending on the group, this could lead to hours of debate, broken friendships, or even strange political dancing. Trust me, I’ve seen it all. For each group, the right book selection option is critical to maintaining the peace. Uncertain which would be best for your book club? Check out some popular options below!

 

This is a Dictatorship, Not a Democracy

The Dictatorship form of book selection is a popular one, no matter how unappealing it sounds with this silly title. In this form of book selection, one person gets to select the book for everyone. 

This could show itself in many forms. For example, in celebrity book clubs, a single person heads the book group and picks for everyone. All the time. Who picks the books for Oprah’s Book Club? It’s sure not Ellen… This format works out well since a larger group of people come together to support these leaders and participate.

My personal favorite variation of this book selection form is a rotating leader. I find this works best when you rotate who hosts the discussion, as well. The host selects the book. Now, this could be that the CURRENT host selects the book for the NEXT meeting. Or the NEXT host will select the book for the NEXT meeting. Either way, this allows everyone to ensure a book they want to read is selected and discussed in a fair rotation.

 

This is a Democracy, Not a Dictatorship

Often the messiest way to select books, I find this is the most common way book clubs select their books. No matter how the book list is created, everyone gets to vote. 

I’ve seen this done where one person selects 3-4 books everyone else can vote on, or where the whole group proposes reading materials to be voted upon. The results could just be for the next meeting, or it could help define all the books you will read throughout the year. For those of you in for the long haul, my favorite option here is to list the books in order of votes for your next few book club meetings. Foresight in reading options can be really useful for active participation– but that’s for a future post!

Yes, this option can be a bit tedious. You have to collect all the votes and tally them up. It can be quite a process! But, no matter the outcome, this is easily the fairest way to select a book and maintain the peace. 

 

This is a Jackie-tatorship.

Yup. I went there. One of the book clubs I support is super indecisive. We have tried, many times, to collect book options and then vote. However, we don’t see each other often enough, and no one is great at email… and, well, we have ended up with many cycles where there has only been 1 week to read the book. O_o As you can imagine, this leads to an ineffective book club.

Our solution? Everyone who is interested proposes a book they are interested in reading (in this case, on a theme). Instead of voting, the Jackie-tator selects which book will be read from the proposed options. This means books are selected promptly without all the drama of waiting for votes, pestering people, feeling like those who were unable to attend can’t have a voice, etc. And obviously, as someone with a strange amount of power in this process: I love it.

Replace your book group leader’s name with “Jackie” and you’ve got a book selection process which is surprisingly effective.

 

Does the Library Have Enough Copies?

This could be a variation of any of the above book selection processes. For many groups, they don’t want to provide a financial burden on their members. These groups rely on the library. No matter what book is chosen, the laws of supply and demand are the super-villain in our selection process.

Often, I’ve seen groups select a book and have to go back to select a different one once they realize the library only holds two copies. If you are lucky, the group will be small enough that this doesn’t matter. Or, perhaps a member or two owns copies of the book they can lend out? Either way– always consider the available resources before selecting your book! 

 

No matter what book club you are participating in, it’s essential all members come to an agreement on how books will be selected. I’ve seen groups change the selection process from meeting to meeting and I’ve seen groups stick with the same process for years. Remember to be flexible, patient, and open to new ideas. After all, the whole point is to discuss books– not get lost in the bureaucracy of book club politics!!

Check out other Building Better Book Clubs posts.


What do you think?

  • What variation does your book club use to select books?
  • Are there any book selection options missing?
  • What are the other barriers in selecting your next book club book?
  • If you were leading a book club, which of the options above would you prefer to use for book selection?

32 Comments

  • Laila@BigReadingLife November 6, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Great post! Our group, which has been around in various forms for ten years (!) uses the Democracy option. We rotate who selects books monthly, they bring 3-4 choices, and we all vote. We don’t tally them for future use, though. We just let the next person in line bring whatever books they want to bring next time. It’s worked very well for us!

    • Jackie B November 6, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      That’s awesome! I’m so glad that the democracy works for you all. Plus, it’s probably old hat now that you’ve been doing this for 10 years. Wowza!

      Do you guys read on a theme or anything? How much variety do you see from selection to selection?

      • Laila@BigReadingLife November 7, 2017 at 11:53 am

        Good question. We don’t read on a theme. But I’ve noticed that we somehow manage to strike a balance between different kinds of books from month to month. We’re more fiction than nonfiction, but we tend to not read too many of the same kinds of fiction in a row if that makes sense. It’s very organic!

        • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 3:17 pm

          That’s great! I find that one of my book clubs is fairly similar to that in the sense that we read quite a wide variety of genres. I love mixing it up and reading non-fiction occasionally. I don’t read enough of that, honestly. Oops!

  • Novels And Nonfiction November 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    This is so funny because I’ve been through all of this and more with the one in-person book club I’m part of when trying to select books. It’s full of very type A women who all read a lot, and there are lots of very strong opinions about what we should be reading next, which is much more of a blessing than a curse honestly. The online survey system worked well for us once, but it’s just too time-consuming and inefficient compared to agreeing to a book for the next month at the prior month’s meeting. Typically we try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction, and some of us tend towards some very serious or hard-hitting topics, which lead others sometimes to ask for a break with something more light-hearted. Love this post!

    • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Thank you, Ottavia! And thank you for sharing your own experiences. Sometimes, the debate about choosing which book to read next can be quite passionate. I love it when those discussions end with my TBR growing from books we decided not to read. There are so many great books and such little time.

      Compared to the overall time you spend discussing the book, how long do you guys debate what book to read next?

      It can really be tough to read hard-hitting topic books over and over again. I definitely need breaks for myself. But I much prefer to read more challenging texts when I know I’ll have a chance to discuss with other people after I read the book. It’s much more fulfilling that way.

      • Novels And Nonfiction November 10, 2017 at 6:26 pm

        Typically we take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the book club meetup to talk about both which book to read next and the date of our next meeting. Sometimes we end up picking books for the following 2 months in that time. It’s nice to give people more advance notice by doing it that way.

        • Jackie B November 14, 2017 at 10:21 am

          That’s actually pretty cool. Mlost of my book clubs have a standard day-of-the-month we meet, but that’s because we’re stupidly busy and a fairly small group. Otherwise our book club meetings turn into buddy reads accidentally! XD

  • theorangutanlibrarian November 6, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    hehee I love the subtitle “dictatorship not a democracy”- cos yeah it makes sense that this would work. Anyone that I know that’s been in a book club tends to do the rotate a leader one. But that does make sense to do it in order of votes, if it is a democracy 😉 hahaha I love the “Jackie-tatorship”! LOL! And that makes a lot of sense about making sure everyone can get hold of the particular book!

    • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Rotating leadership seems to be the most common book selection method I’ve run into thus far. I think it’s easy to make things feel fair that way. Sadly, I’ve seen each of these backfire, too. It’s a shame when politics get involved in book clubs!

      Are you involved in any book clubs?

      • theorangutanlibrarian November 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

        Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Oh that is a real shame! Sadly not- hopefully one day!

  • Lashaan (Bookidote) November 7, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Wow, Jackie. This post is brilliant! I honestly never wanted to join book clubs online (Goodreads, for example) because of how much I wouldn’t want to read certain books and others probably wouldn’t want to read the ones I want to read and so on. And the fact that I have sooooo many books that I want to read ASAP just makes me not want to add the burden of a group on my shoulder. I did however envision joining a group someday when I get older just to meet people in real life and talk about books. Those sound fun, but I sooooo don’t see people my age being in those groups either! Huge fear that the age gap would also reflect a severe difference in taste too! I do love how you presented all the possibilities, and honestly, I think the dictatorship is the one that would work best (with a rotation for leader). That sounds like a promising group, but I’m not sure if the chosen book might also create tension and negativity among those uninterested and all.. Ahhhh, clubs are hard to imagine! Still thoroughly enjoyed you post!! 😀

    • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Oh thank you so much, Lashaan! Your compliment means so much to me. Book clubs are a passion of mine. I couldn’t be more excited to share opportunities and ideas for book clubs with people.

      I understand not wanting to participate in online books clubs– personally, I find it a challenge to stay engaged, honestly. When you have a HUGE TBR pile looking you in the mouth it can feel like just one more thing to do, too. I like low pressure book club options.

      I love the age gaps in some of my book clubs!! If you want to participate in book clubs now, I recommend just doing it. It’s really interesting hearing the differing opinions between generations and experience. That said– If your goal is to just burn through your TBR and not add to it, this might not be the best time for a book club. At some point, you’ll always be asked to read something you never were planning on reading.

      I love book clubs- -they give books real life to me. Being able to discuss and share my opinions is critical to my happiness. That’s one of the key reasons I blog, too.

      Thanks for stopping by, Lashaan! I can’t wait to better understand your tastes in books, book clubs, and blogging. 😀

  • Annemieke November 7, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Haha oh yeah we have the democracy one too (though is only our first run) and it was hard to decide which book to go for. Howevery we also don’t have a set date to read it by at the moment. Just hopefully in November, haha. We are very casual so far.

    • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Yay new book club!!! I’m so glad that you have that opportunity. One of my favorite book clubs started super casually. But make certain people don’t flake out and avoid meeting again.

      Democracy is a great option. What book did you all select? Is this a new book or one you’ve had on your TBR for a while?

      • Annemieke November 10, 2017 at 3:13 pm

        We initially started out to discuss the last The Others book by Anne Bishop when it released in Dutch and then we decided to keep meeting up/reading together. We have a book now that I had never heard about. I still have to read it though this month.

        • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 3:15 pm

          That’s awesome! I hope that things keep going strong for your book club– and that you like this new book!

  • Grab the Lapels November 7, 2017 at 8:47 am

    My book club drives me a bit bonkers with our book selection. We choose two months ahead because there are folks who say they want to get the book early. I’m not sure what that means; don’t they need to read the book for the next month first?? Online communication is almost zero, so we are not prepared. At the end of book club, people can nominate books. Since we’re sitting in a cafe or restaurant, it’s weird to have a person read the synopsis of a book off of Goodreads. Those get very, very long! And it’s hard to pay attention and/or hear. Also, because no one comes prepared with a book to nominate, we all spend a few minutes on Goodreads digging through our individual to-read lists. If someone doesn’t have Goodreads, they’re pretty much out of luck because they have nowhere to look. Then, we nominate 3-4 books and vote. The most frustrating part, though, is when someone nominates a book and then doesn’t come to the next book club–the one for which we read their book!! I would much prefer a rotating leader so that we mix up the book choices and conversations (mostly, I am leading the conversation because I always have stuff to say). The problem is we don’t have a regular crew of people who come. It’s random.

    • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Ugh. That sounds quite frustrating. Just a really high maintenance book club, really. Why do you suppose that is?

      In some of my book clubs we do the same thing– reading Goodreads synopses to each other. It can certainly get long! There are people in my clubs who are getting skilled at summarizing a summary if you can believe it. What a skill!

      I can understand how being the de facto leader over and over and over again can be exhausting and annoying. I often feel like I’m the only one talking and I’m not giving people a chance to speak. Oops.

      • Grab the Lapels November 11, 2017 at 11:29 am

        I think we’re fairly disorganized because this is a town with a lot of colleges (5 big ones and a few McColleges). So, people come and go as they graduate and move away.

        • Jackie B November 15, 2017 at 9:06 am

          That makes sense– college towns tend to have a rotation through populations much more than non-college towns.

          Okay, I need to ask: What’s a McCollege?

          • Grab the Lapels November 15, 2017 at 1:16 pm

            Ivy Tech, Brown Mackie, ITT Tech…. the colleges that pop up all over and aren’t terribly good for students.

            • Jackie B November 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm

              Ahhhh. Yes. An easily accessible college which offers a lot of debt with not a lot of academic galvanization. I get it.

  • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy November 11, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Haha I love the ‘Jackie-tatorship’ that’s an interesting blend of democracy and dictatorship – sounds like it works well though! The book club I used to be in was more of a rotating leader style one… the only problem was it had to also be a kind of democracy because if too many people had already read the book it was a bit pointless (we wanted it to be something the majority of us could read and talk about with ‘fresh’ thoughts on it before the next meeting), and also if too many people didn’t like sound of the book it was bad for morale… so the current ‘leader’ had to keep suggesting books until they found one that most people were okay with and hadn’t read. It was a bit messy but it worked 🙂

    • Jackie B November 13, 2017 at 8:12 am

      Hey, as long as it worked, who cares? I have a book club which is a bit more haphazard in their book selections that way. Instead of a leader, everyone randomly shouts of the books they want to read until we all agree on one we haven’t all read yet. The tricky part for that process is that we have two librarians who participate. They do quite a bit of re-reading for us, but only if they think it’s a book we should all be reading. XD

      If I may ask: Why are you no longer participating in that book club?

      • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy November 14, 2017 at 4:48 pm

        Haha well that process sounds fun too – and nice to have two librarians who ensure you are reading good books, as long as they don’t mind re-reading!

        I’m not in that book club anymore because I moved away. I contemplated skyping in for the meetings but it wouldn’t have been the same. Also I think the club has kind of changed now anyway and has new people in it. So now I have a book club of two instead (if such a thing still counts as a club!) with a friend and we have skype meetings. Our taste in books is similar and there’s only two of us, so it’s very easy to choose what we’re reading next!

        • Jackie B November 17, 2017 at 9:14 am

          It totally counts as a club! I do something like that too. One of my friends, who attended a book club with me, ended up taking a course which met during our book club for a semester. So, we would get brunch and talk about the book separately. Then, when she graduated a year later and moved away, we just kept doing it over the phone. Now we also add our own books sometimes, too. It’s fun! I like the intimacy of those discussions.

          • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy November 18, 2017 at 6:24 pm

            Ah that’s cool you have a similar thing! Yeah it is really nice to have the one-on-one discussions – more intimate and focused than discussions in a big group.

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea November 12, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    I think you and I have touched on it before, but I am that terrible blogger/reader who does not actively participate in book club readings haha. But I love these posts! I personally favor the more “messy” throw a few titles out there and cast votes though. My biggest hang up is that I am a bad mood reader and it can totally spoil a book club experience. I have just this year started buddy reading haha. I love that you mention availability of titles at libraries as an issue also because it is. We cannot all afford to run out and purchase each next read

    • Jackie B November 13, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Pft, this certianly doesn’t make you a terrible blogger/reader! To each their own, right? Everyone wants their own level of reading involvement and commitment. Book clubs and discussing books with other readers is one of the main reasons I read, honestly.

      But, no matter whether you’re in a book club or not, I’m glad you appreciate these posts, Danielle! Buddy reading is totally a variation on a book club. It counts.

      Mood reading definitely ruins my experiences in book clubs sometimes. It’s a bit embarrassing, I will find that I just can’t make myself read the book. But, I will often go anyway. XD

      YES! I cannot afford to buy a new book each month nor find places to store them. The library is my savior. It’s important to be considerate to your fellow book clubbers. 😀

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea November 16, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        I hope you plan to continue with this series and discussion. I think talking through what doesn’t work for me with you is actually helping me gain some insight into what sort of club might be ideal for myself <3

        • Jackie B November 19, 2017 at 10:32 am

          !! This makes me so happy! I’m glad this is helping. I will certainly be posting more — I have quite a few ideas sitting in my brain to expand on this series. 😀

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