Don’t let these tricky titles derail your next discussion!
I love book clubs. Full stop. There have been periods of my life when I’ve been involved with four or five each month. Nonfiction, Pulitzer Prize winners, clubs with best friends, clubs with colleagues, clubs with strangers, clubs with four people, clubs with 25. I’ve done them all and often have a wonderful, enriching experience.
Having said that, I’ve also led some terrible book clubs where we just sat there looking at each other. The problem? The book we’d selected was too hard to discuss. To prevent that atrocity from happening to you, avoid these five kinds of books:
- Serials. Sometimes a series appears, and members agree to read the first one. It’s a great idea because you wanted to read the book anyway, and this will get you started. Wrong. It’s a terrible idea. One club I participated in read The Hunger Games soon after it came out in paperback. We’d heard the hype and were excited. However, some members went ahead and read all three volumes. This created cries of acrimony as the speed readers couldn’t remember which plot details happened in the second or third book. It was a disaster.
- Long nonfiction titles. Everyone sees a book on the New York Times bestseller list that would make them a better person if only they read it. Assigning it for book club is a perfect way to ensure that happens, right? Nope. Instead, you’ve selected a book of which members read only a few chapters and then give up. A silent discussion ensues.
- Books that span two meetings. A long book can be intimidating, so let’s read half. I tried this with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. An excellent book and worth a read, but we divided it between two sessions. Some of the people had read the whole book, while others had only read half. Plus, we discussed most of the issues in the first meeting, so the second meeting was simply rehashing. An author doesn’t usually present new themes in the latter parts of the book.
- Unassailable stories. Oprah started a book club, and I’ve enjoyed the majority of her picks. But so has everyone else. These books are tough to discuss because you can’t dislike them. Comments like “I hate slavery” and “I hate slavery, too” will bore your group to death. Jodi Picoult is a particular author whom I blame for this trend. You may love her books, but they leave little to discuss. Move on and find a more controversial author, a questionable premise, or a novel with a new way to tell a story.
- Books with a movie. People want to join a book club. Why not? They’re full of good food (wine!) and good people. But some people just aren’t readers; they realize club is tomorrow, and they haven’t read the book. But they did see the movie a while back. (Gone Girl will be an example of this in future clubs.) Movies and books are very different, and they need to be discussed differently.
I wish you luck with your book club, and don’t forget to invite me! I’m free next month.
JR Scrafford is a senior review editor at the Washington Independent Review of Books.