Book clubs are an amazing way to make reading a social activity — and they’ve thrived during the pandemic. But lots of groups have a hard time selecting reads that all members are happy with. Over time, that can affect people’s happiness and participation levels, so it’s worth getting right. Luckily, there are lots of creative ways to set yourself up to choose books members will love. Give these ideas a try — straight from founders of successful book clubs.
1. Use reviews as your guide.
Of course there are always exceptions, but this is probably the safest option when it comes to selecting books members will love. “The internet’s opinion will likely be a reflection of the book club’s consensus on a book,” says Mackenzie Newcomb, founder of Bad Bitch Book Club. If you’re responsible for choosing your book club’s next selection, you ideally want to look for books that have at least a 4 out of 5 on platforms with reviews like Scribd, StoryGraph, and Goodreads, Newcomb adds. As a bonus, reading reviews can also give you a heads up about whether the book deals with any sensitive topics or themes, so you can provide content warnings to members as needed.
2. If your book club has a theme, stick to it.
“My book club has an overall theme: the 408 books that were mentioned on The Gilmore Girls,” explains Julianne Buonocore, a blogger at The Literary Lifestyle by: Jules Buono. Not all book clubs will have a theme, but if yours does, it’s a great way to bring like minds together and foster community in addition to reading, she adds. It also helps narrow down the book options each month. If people like the theme of the book club, then they’re more likely to enjoy any books picked that fit into that theme.
3. Consider banned books.
If your club loves a lively discussion, try choosing a “banned book,” Buonocore suggests. These are books that have been removed from libraries or schools at some point. You can then discuss what people think it is about the book that made it controversial, and how that fits into today’s climate. (For what it’s worth, many famous books — like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison — have been banned at one point.)
4. If you have a smaller book club, let members choose the book.
“We had a voting system for the first three years of our book club,” Newcomb says. This strategy works really well if you have smaller numbers, since everyone gets a say. But as a book club grows, it can become more difficult to get consensus, so that’s something to keep in mind. Another option that works well for smaller clubs: Rotate between members to choose the book. Each person gets a turn, so at the very least, everyone’s happy with at least one of the recent picks.
5. Take a cue from celebrity book clubs.
“Another really easy place to start is by seeing what the celebrity book clubs are reading,” Buonocore says. “These celebrities have teams dedicated to helping them pick new books that are great for discussion. Let their resources help make your job easy!”
6. Choose a book that’s been adapted into a film.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if a book was good enough to be made into a film, it’s probably one that a lot of people enjoyed. The same goes with books adapted for Netflix. Plus, then you can watch the movie at your book club meeting, Buonocore says, and compare it to the book.
7. Don’t worry about reinventing the wheel.
It’s OK to let book experts guide you. Whether it's an independent bookstore owner’s pick, a librarian's advice, or a popular article about good book club books, don’t be afraid to trust the recommendations, Buonocore says. “For Scribd members, I personally like to check the recommendations of the best new books list on the app.”
8. Know that book clubs can still work if members read different books.
In fact, this is how Buonocore’s book club works. She chooses a theme for each month (i.e., thrillers, non-fiction) that fits within the book club’s larger theme. Then, she provides several choices for each month, so members can choose the book that appeals to them most. “Providing options gives people more of a say in how they’re spending their free time while still participating in a group event,” she explains. During the discussion, you can talk about how the books are similar and different, and what members learned from their selections. After all, a book club is supposed to be fun, so don’t overthink it!