How We Choose Our Book Club List

Our book club has been going on for 10 years. It’s a great group of women from all different walks of life, and we love coming together to read great books — from the bestseller lists, Pulitzer winners, Booker awards, or classics from our past that we’ve always wanted to reread.

A lot of people ask me, however, how we select our books. It seems that all book clubs do it a different way, and there’s certainly no right or wrong way.

But here’s what we do:

Every December, we have our “core members” (loosely defined as those who come all the time, and the number ranges from 9 to 11) each select one book, with a second or third as “backup.”

We enter our selections as “replies” on an e-vite list, which we found works best because the file stays “live” for up to a month, and this way everyone can read everyone else’s choices without constant, interruptive e-mails. Members can also “second” someone else’s choice on the e-vite, which gives the book more “weight” in the selection process.

Once all the books are entered and seconded, friend and co-founder Barbara and I create the list. Usually there are a few books that clearly get a lot of votes, plus we almost always have at least one classic, and we often have at least one non-fiction. In the last couple of years, we’ve also done a “Men’s Night,” where we try to pick a book the men in our lives would like to read with us, and those evenings have always been a huge turnout and really fun.

Once we have 12 selections, we plot them out for five-week intervals. We find five weeks works best for most of us. We tried every four weeks at first, but that was too rapid for most to keep up. And six weeks seemed like eons. But five weeks was just right. We work around holiday weekends, though, so sometimes we have one four-week span (we’ll pick a short book for that slot) or once a year we might have a six-week span (we’ll slot the longest book there). But generally, it’s five weeks.

Then we type up the list with books, dates, and a short description of the book from the NYT or Kirkus or Amazon or someplace so members know what the book will be about.

And we try to distribute the list at the Christmas brunch, which is always exciting. Everyone looks forward to seeing it. (In recent years, some of us go straight home and ask for Amazon gift cards for Christmas, then we can load up our Kindles in January with all the books for the entire year!)

I have to say, I really like this selection process. I like letting others pick books that I may never have picked up on my own. I don’t think I would have read The Time Traveler’s Wife if it hadn’t been on the book club list, or The Secret Life of Bees, but I loved both. After seeing The Sparrow on the list one year, I almost skipped it because it sounded like a book I would really not like. Yet I LOVED that book — it’s still one of my all-time favorite surprises from the book club. And Middlesex was an absolutely amazing book, but I’m not sure I would have read that on my own (… or … I don’t know, maybe I would have?). Anyway, it showed me you just never know — it’s best to give everything a chance.

Barbara and I just met last week for dinner and finalized our next year’s list! As usual, it’s a great list to look forward to all year. …

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3 thoughts on “How We Choose Our Book Club List

  1. I was so excited to get the list last night! As usual there were a few I have already read. I look forward to reading them again. I know I NEVER would have gotten around to that! I always get something different the second time around. Thanks for getting the list together for us!

  2. I miss that book club. Though I enjoy my current Memphis book club, we are often remiss about meeting. When we do, we just pick the book for next time and decide who is hosting. Many of our core members have moved away and it seems to be rather falling apart. I really loved your book club. A lot. I can’t remember how many years I attended. I think maybe the first three years as I’ve now been gone for seven. Crazy how time flies.

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