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Choosing What to Read

One of the most enjoyable yet frightening aspects of a reading group is choosing the books. While it's exciting to consider the options, make your list and winnow it down to those few select titles that you'll read each year, picking good books for your group can also be intimidating. You want the perfect book: one that's not too easy, not too hard, that will hold the interest of a diverse group of readers and will also inspire a lively discussion. Where on earth do you find books that are all that and more, and how do you pick which of these to read?

Probably the best place to start looking for titles is your own members' bookshelves. Some groups insist that those proposing a book have read it and can testify to its worthiness for the group. Other groups would rather that no one have read the book, making it a surprise for everyone; they choose books based on word of mouth from outside sources, reviews, or dust jacket blurbs. Is there a title that many of you have always wanted to read? A classic that some of you would like to revisit or have never quite gotten to? An old favorite that you'd love to share with your group?

Are you looking for something a little different? Outside your normal reading curve? Try searching this site for a good book. All the books listed here have reading guides that can enhance your group's discussion. Many publishers specialize in certain types of books, either by genre or literary style. If you find a book you like, search the publisher's site for similar titles. Try reading several works by one author or on the same topic. Or compare two books set in the same time period or focusing on related topics. Some reading groups even have themes, such as 19th century literature, science fiction, or women authors. If this is not the case with your group, remember that a major complaint of many reading groups is monotony --- all their books tend to have the same subject or tone. Be sure to include a variety of topics and voices in your selections so your group doesn't get bored.

Another place to look for recommendations is your local library or bookstore. Libraries routinely put out lists of recommended readings and librarian picks. Bookstore clerks are generally up on what's popular--the bestseller lists and what other groups in your area may be reading. Lists of award winners and nominees such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Prize and the National Book Award can provide your group with many quality suggestions. There are also many books available now that have lists of books for reading groups. These are usually divided into a wide range of categories to fit many reading groups' tastes. An important decision to make before picking your books is to decide if your reading group members are willing to buy hardbacks or if all selections must be available in paperback.

Now that you've got your list of books, how do you choose which ones to read? In many groups, each member suggests several titles and the group decides together which they'll read. Often these groups will choose several months' or a year's worth of books ahead of time. In other groups, each member takes a turn making her or his selection. Your group might prefer the excitement of deciding next month's read only after this month's discussion, or you may prefer to plan at least two months ahead to allow time for everyone to get the book, especially if some of you are depending on the library for your copy.

Choosing your book list should be fun. The better informed you are about the titles you consider, the less likely you are to pick a dud. Use this website and to get suggestions and information, make your list, and then enjoy the best part --- the reading and discussion of great books!