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April 3, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

Posted by carol
Last month Jennifer Hart shared how her book club makes reading selections --- several titles are presented monthly by the current hostess and voted on in two rounds, which she likened to the presidential primary and general election. Shannon McKenna Schmidt's book club uses a very different method. Here is their story.

In contrast to the democratic process that Jennifer Hart's book clubs uses to choose discussion titles, my group's method could be considered an ever-changing monarchy with each member having a chance to reign for a month. (That person is also responsible for arranging the date of the meeting and selecting a restaurant.)

The member whose turn it is has sole discretion to select a book. It's a fun way to do it, as each time it's a complete surprise. It's like opening a gift --- sometimes you love what's inside, sometimes you don't, and sometimes that item you never would have picked out for yourself turns out to be a favorite possession. Also, choices are diverse and reflect members' personalities and range of interests. Our two most recent picks, for example, were the classic The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (a pioneer in the sci-fi genre) and Kate Jacobs' contemporary novel The Friday Night Knitting Club.

A point Jennifer makes in her post --- and one with which I completely agree --- is that in clubs where all members nominate titles each time, someone's choices are likely to be overlooked. What I like about my club's selection method is that everyone has their chance to be queen (or king, for our one guy). And I've definitely read books I might never have picked up on my own --- such as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Jody Shields' The Fig Eater --- which for me is one of the reasons to be in a reading group. This selection process also allows members to get creative --- one chose a sampling of short stories by John Cheever, Flannery O'Connor and other scribes, photocopied them and mailed them to us. Another time we skipped reading a book and instead saw a Shakespeare performance, taking in the Bard's Richard II under the stars at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

When it comes to making my picks, I've found books by browsing sites like (Tulip Fever) and (Eat, Pray, Love), taking recommendations from friends and co-workers (She's Come Undone), and perusing my shelves for books I've been wanting to read and simply haven't yet made the time (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Blind Assassin and One Hundred Years of Solitude, before it was an Oprah pick). In fact, I'd better start thinking about what gem I'm going to select next. I'll be the reigning book club queen in May.

---Shannon McKenna Schmidt