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How to Choose the Next Book to Discuss

There are so many ways groups can choose the books they will read, but how do you figure out what works best specifically for your group?

In our annual survey, which we send out to our reading groups, readers have listed a number of options for selecting books, and many groups said they had to try out a few methods before finding the right fit – kind of like Goldilocks!

Some groups might have members with busy schedules who don’t have time to host and/or prepare to lead discussion. Some members might be happy having the choices left to a committee so that they can just show up and participate. Other members might want to be more involved, and have the creative interest to prepare book-related food-items and accessories.

Once your group is established, and even after you’ve been a group for a long time, it’s helpful to check in to make sure each member feels comfortable with the time commitment, the organization, and to double-check that each member’s voice is being heard; don’t overlook your quieter members – it’s easier to do than you might think!

Here are a few methods along with a few creative/unique examples from our readers. We hope you find one, or two, or even three, that could work well for your group!

The Group Method: Choose your books together (a majority of our readers choose this method). But, there are definitely a variety of ways in which you can choose your books together – that’s where things get interesting! Here are a few group examples from our readers:

For the statistical group: Weighted entries with beans! “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!

For the tech group: “We create a survey online every month where members can add up to 3 titles. Once everyone has added at least one book, we vote and see which book received a “yes” vote from everyone.”

A written vote so everyone is heard! “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.

A book from every member! “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.”

Using Reading Group Choices! “We use Reading Group Choices to help make our selections. Each group member can pick three titles from the recent Reading Group Choices and we see which titles have the most votes.”

Following the RGC Favorite Book Lists: “We usually follow the previous year’s ‘Top Book Group Favorites’ list from the Reading Group Choices website.”

The Rotation Method: Each member chooses one book. Many times this method relates to the member who is hosting the meeting. So whoever hosts the next meeting, chooses the book.

Each member hosts one meeting each year. The hostess chooses the book, and provides an introduction to the book at the beginning of the meeting. Sometimes people get creative and have themed drinks, snacks, and even accessories to wear.

Rotation Method with Feedback: The hostess/selector for the following month offers a few selections and the group votes.

Rotation ballots: “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.”

A Selection Committee or Leader-Led: For the very organized committee, a selection committee might be in charge of finding options and choosing titles.

For the very organized group: A selection committee! “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) evaluates recommendations and selects the books for the following year.

A committee with categories and themes: “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.”

Follow the leader: “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.”

The second piece of the puzzle: WHEN to choose your books…