Tips for Picking Great Book Club Reads



 – by Teresa Bruce

More than five million Americans belong to book reading groups—not counting online groups—and most are women. Not surprising, since the existence of book clubs traces back to mid-18th century England when women began hosting salons at each other’s homes for intellectual advancement. The sales power of book clubs amplifies around holidays like Mother’s Day, but even tight-knit literary friends can bicker over picking books to read as a group.

Which is why, as a writer, I got together with a bookstore guru to share our top five tips for book club harmony.

1)     Find authors whose characters drink wine.

Book clubs are social gatherings for women—a once-a-month chance to crack open a bottle (or several) of wine and let conversations wander where they will. What better harmony than a literary character who would fit right into the sisterhood?

Take my book, for example. In The Other Mother: A Rememoir, readers can gauge the emotional complexity of an upcoming scene by the type of wine the protagonist opens on her Southern porch. A humdrum chardonnay and she’s expecting a short visit. A vintage California Mondavi means a celebration or a new adventure.

2)     Some sex, but not 50 shades of embarrassment.

Unless your book club reads only Kindle or I-Pad titles, your kids, co-workers, and husband will be checking out the cover. And judging.

“Sassy but subtle,” recommends Will Balk, a former manager of a New York Times-reporting bookstore in Beaufort, SC. “You don’t want to blush walking up to the register.”

3)     Avoid opening a can of politics or religion.

Investment clubs or church reading groups aside, there are topics guaranteed to divide book clubs and politics and religion top the list.

“It’s not that you never ever want to go there, but save the really controversial topics for once a year,” Balk advises. “That way, easily offended readers can just skip that month and pretend they had to work late that night.”

4)     Pick authors with up-to-date websites and books with great Facebook pages.

If all you ever wanted to do was read books in a vacuum, you wouldn’t be in a book club to begin with. Great books are more than plot and character – they start conversations. And, you’re more likely to get an author to come talk to your club, or join in over Skype, if she’s already interacting with readers on a regular basis. Facebook pages are a great place to connect with other book club readers in different parts of the country. If an author can’t come, independent booksellers might host a theme night in the store or suggest a guest speaker related to the book’s topic.

One book club reading The Other Mother invited me over to talk about the book in a yurt! What author could resist that? Today’s readers want more than a one-way experience, and I love it when they post their own stories on the book’s Facebook page and share videos and photos.

5)     Religion, no. Redemption, yes.

Women don’t want to spend an entire month reading a bleak book only to depress each other more on book club night.  At least one character in the book should learn, grow, or triumph in some way. “There’s not enough wine in the world to make up for picking a book with no redeeming characters,” says Balk. “I know, because I’ve recommended a few that fell completely flat.”

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