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September 19, 2008

Surprise Discussions

Posted by carol
Today's guest blogger is Stephanie Coleman, who talks about how her New Jersey reading group chooses books --- and how one selection inspired members to discuss more than the novel at hand. To read more by Stephanie, visit her blog, Stephanie's Written Word.

When I approached my neighbor with the hope of starting a book club last spring, I had already done some research as to how to run a successful group. One big issue within book clubs seemed to surface quite a lot. In most groups, each month one member picks the book they want to read. While this seemed like an interesting way to pick a book, it wasn't all that democratic. I wanted our book club to be interactive for all involved, so we decided that each month one member would pick three books to suggest to our group and then we could all vote on their suggested books. Whichever book got the most votes won. We would rotate members each month, so that everyone would have a chance to suggest some books. With about ten members in our group, it meant that each member would be able to suggest books at least once a year. That first month was my turn. I came up with three books that I was most interested in reading and ultimately we voted on Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. Moloka'i turned out to be the perfect opening book for our club.

This way of picking our books has lead to some interesting and varied book club picks. Back in April, one of Nicole's suggestions was Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Francine Rivers is a famous Christian fiction writer, a genre we had yet to delve into. Out of the three books Nicole suggested, this was the one that I most certainly did not want to read. You would think that being a Christian I wouldn't be put off by her suggestion of a Christian fiction title, but I was afraid that the book might lead to discussions that could potentially be uncomfortable for some. Of course, the voting won out and Redeeming Love was added to my "to be read" pile.

What was surprising about that month was the fact that not only did I love the book, but the discussion itself was insightful and thought provoking. I then realized that this book opened our book club discussion far and wide, and I was lucky to be a part of such a special group of women. Had Redeeming Love not been one of her suggestions, I might not have had the opportunity to read this wonderful book. Yeah for the voting process!

Is our little system perfect? Not quite. There was one unforeseen issue that came from our unique way of picking books for our meetings. One member was so worried about picking out books our club members might enjoy reading, that she was missing the whole point of being a part of a book club. I reminded her that she need not pick three books that she thinks the group might enjoy, but three books that she herself would enjoy reading. This idea seemed to click with her, and now she comes up with some of the most diverse suggestions in the group.

All in all, this way of picking our books each month has worked nicely for our group. I'm wondering if we are unique in our way of selecting books each month, or does your book club have an efficient and successful way of setting up the books you read?

---Stephanie Coleman