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March 27, 2008

Deciding What To Read

Posted by carol
One of the questions that we are asked most often is, "How does a group decide what to read?" This post from Jennifer Hart, who writes the blog, talks about how her group does this and how they enlist the help of their local independent bookseller in their selection process.

Many people ask me how my book group decides on the books that we read each month. While I had nothing to do with how our group is set up to choose titles, as I joined a few months after it was formed, I have to say that I think we have a system that works pretty well, with a minimum of hurt feelings. In groups I've been in in the past, there was a general free-for-all at each meeting, with every member putting forth titles for us to vote on. Inevitably someone felt that their titles weren't paid attention to.

Here's how we do it in my current group. Whoever's turn it is to host that month puts forth 5 books. If they're not books they have on hand, our local independent, Goldfinch Books, is great about lending out copies for the night. They also give us a discount on the bulk purchase of books and call each and every member when the books come in. If you're not hooked up with a local store to get the books for your group, I highly recommend it. And the staff, of course, can be a great resource in pointing you towards good choices. Find a store near you via the Book Sense website.

So we have our five books. The host presents each one, and we pass them around. If anyone has read one or another book by that author we share those thoughts and impressions. We then hold two rounds of voting. In the first round, you can vote for two books (I guess this is like the presidential primaries --- not in the two votes sense, but in the preliminary sense). In the second round, or general election if you will, only the top two vote getters from the first round are up for election. During this round each member gets one vote and the winner here is the next book group pick.

This system works really well. I like not having to narrow down my choice to one initially, and the discussion we have between rounds helps us to hone in on which books are not only the most appealing but the ones we feel are the most discussable -- which is, of course, the ultimate goal. A newly initiated rule is that we will bring the runner up back to the subsequent meeting as one of the next five candidates. In addition, if we've voted on a book twice and not chosen it, we don't usually allow it into the running again. Though I'm pretty sure we broke this rule with Eat, Pray, Love, which took a few months to get chosen.

My book group met tonight, and our choices were Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, Katrina Kittle's The Kindness of Strangers, Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World, Geraldine Brooks' March (we previously read and loved Year of Wonders) and Debbie Galant's Fear and Yoga in New Jersey.

The top two picks from the first round were The Kindness of Strangers and The Post-Birthday World. Lionel Shriver won out, I think mostly due to our anticipation of discussing the book's enticing premise --- how one woman's life will change, or not, based on whether or not she kisses a man who is not her husband. I'm very much looking forward to next month's discussion of this book!

------Jennifer Hart ,