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Choosing the Next Book to Discuss

An Exclusive by Reading Group Choices

What’s the best way for your group to pick its next read? Many groups strive for consensus in advance about the kind of books they plan to read. Some groups set aside one meeting to create a list or theme for the coming year. Many even use formal (or not-so-formal) voting processes to make their selections. Lots of groups require that members suggesting books for discussion to have read the book ahead of time and even to have done research to support the selection.

In our recent surveys, readers have given us all kinds of ideas – maybe some of them will work for your group!

Selection Methods

Getting consensus can be difficult, but most groups feel that it is important to do so. The majority of groups in our recent survey said that the group chooses books together. In many other groups, a single member chooses for each discussion, but every member has a chance to make a selection for the group.

Several methods are quite intricate, but they have passed groups’ test of time. One group member describes their rotation method: “We have a rotation that results in each member being hostess one month, then bringing a list of suggested books the next month, then leading the discussion the third month. That person presents five or six books for consideration with comments from the book jacket or elsewhere, and then we vote. On the first ballot, each person has two votes and on the second ballot just one vote. It sounds complicated, but it has worked for 27 years."

Several members described a simpler version of the rotation method – whoever hosts the next meeting chooses. In some cases, the hostess offers several selections and the one most members choose is the one they read.

Another group uses the bean method. “Everyone brings five or six books to introduce to the group. During a casual snack time, each member gets a certain number of beans (25 to 50). They then place the beans on the books as one vote each. They can put any number on any book. The group tallies the bean total for each book and creates a list from high to low votes. The result is a valuable weighted list to choose from that lasts for a good long while!"

Several groups use selection committees to make the final selection.  “At our season wrap-up, members present their recommendations for the next year based on their research, or recommendations from other sources. A selection committee of three members (who serve a three-year term) evaluate recommendations and select the books for the following year.

In another group, “We have a formal process where recommendations in various categories are collected from members and a local independent bookstore. A committee of about eight members decides on the final list."

In some cases, the committee method is just a means of saving time or sticking to a chosen theme.  Says one group member, “A committee of anyone interested meets and selects a theme and most of the year's books with several alternates. Then the members who have time to facilitate will pick which books they would like to do or suggest a suitable alternative book on the theme.

Lead Time

Nearly half of the groups in our survey choose their reading list for the entire year (or for several months) in advance at one meeting. The most popular months for book selection were January and September.

Once again, book groups are quite creative in their approaches.  Says one member, “Each member brings a wrapped book to the December meeting. Therefore, each member has chosen a book for the upcoming year, and that member will lead the discussion for her book. Also, each member now owns one of the books."

Another group selects books for six months in advance. Everyone picks a month, and has to wait to announce the selection. October is announced at the April meeting, November at the May meeting, and so on. That allows six months to find and read books, and the “Book Chooser” can get a feel for the kinds of books the group has been reading.  That way, the new choices compliment what the group has been reading, and “no one will have bought a years worth of books and be mad if someone changes their mind (which had been a problem). It is a nice surprise each month to hear what is coming up!"

A member of a North Carolina group reports, “We meet in September. Each of us brings three books we would like to read or have read and present them to the group. It lasts the whole meeting, but when we finish, we have our book list for 11 months. We like to select our books for the year – many of our members are retired, and they can keep up with the group while they travel."

Another group members says, “We have a ‘planning’ meeting one month a year, and each member recommends two or three books. The group votes on which books we want to read, making sure that each member has a book chosen.

Voting

Many groups have a similar voting process. Some of them are quite formal, apparently for good reason.  One group leader reports, “We discuss choices about twice a year. Everyone writes down on a card their top six choices, and then I tally the votes. The top choices win. We used to not do such a formal vote, but we found that a few were speaking up for the group and our quieter members didn't speak up. The new procedure has worked quite well."

In another group, “Twice a year, the leader researches to come up with a ‘shortlist’ of books most recommended, based on other reading groups, the availability of reading group discussion questions, critical acclaim, and awards. Members vote on the shortlist of about 18 titles. The top six choices are scheduled for the next six months, giving everyone a chance to buy books ahead of time."

In still another, each member brings nominations once a year. They each get 11 votes. Any book receiving five or more votes is put on the list.

Requirements

Over half of the groups in our survey have adopted some procedures or rules about how discussions take place, and some of them apply to how books are selected.

Many groups require that the member recommending a book must have read it and be willing to read it again.  Some groups require that the book be available in paperback or at least readily available from local stores and/or libraries.

One group requires that “1) Chosen books must be discussible, and 2) You don’t have to like them."

Although not a hard-and-fast rule, many groups aim to read a variety of genres and subject material during the course of a year.  One group’s challenge has been “choosing a book that doesn’t offend the sensitivities of recent personal situations within the book (i.e. breast cancer, death of a parent or spouse, divorce, etc.)  Sometimes it is hard to come up with a book for that month that stays clear of the issues involved! Silly, but true.

Reading Group Choices

We are happy to report that Reading Group Choices often assisted groups with their choices.  One group reports, “We use Reading Group Choices to help make our selections. Each group member can pick a title from the recent Reading Group Choices or suggest a title of their own. Since we have about eight members, the rest of us can discuss how to pick the other four titles."

Another group “usually follows the previous year's ‘Top Book Group Favorites’ list from the Reading Group Choices website. Since it often repeats books from year to year, we sometimes each pick a book we'd like to read and then add them to our list. We are currently reading other books by authors we enjoyed in the past.

One comment, gratifying to those of us at Reading Group Choices: “I find that the questions posed in Reading Group Choices are very helpful, as they keep people on track.  Thank you!"

Copyright © 2007 Reading Group Choices

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