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By Kaite Stover
There's a question I always ask whenever I visit a book club: "What's the best book you've ever discussed?"
This is a surefire way to start a lively discussion, one that always begins with the books the group has enjoyed and inevitably transitions to those they haven't. Eventually, the group will conclude that the best books are those they never would have chosen for themselves. And as soon I hear a member say some variation of "This isn't a book I would have found on my own — I'm so glad I read it," I know I've found a title†I can recommend without hesitation.
After I've read a new title, I task myself with answering the following five questions before I present it as a potential book club selection:
- What's this book about? What's it really about? I come up with a quick plot summary that includes the larger issues and themes the story addresses.
- Which character changes the most? Why did he or she change, and what did she do to achieve that change?
- What motivates this character? Did the author present her motivations in a way a reader can understand?
- Does the story's time and place impact the way the characters behave? How does this setting affect their values and beliefs?
- How does the book end? Is the ending satisfying? (Note: a satisfying ending is not the same as a happy one.) Did the author leave any loose ends? Did she do so deliberately? What do any lingering questions tell the reader about the characters or the author's intentions?
If—and only if—my answers to these questions confirm a book's suitability for sustained discussion, it goes on the list. But self-reflection and polling book groups aren't the only ways to find titles that will provoke thoughtful conversation. Literary prizes, reading group guides, and web resources are just some of the myriad ways to find a great book. Here are some road-tested places where you can find titles sure to vanquish any future dull discussions.
In addition to Sarah Jessica Parker's quarterly book club picks, themed lists, and occasional book reviews right here on Book Club Central, check out the websites where librarians who advise book club readers and leaders turn when they need potential titles.
Kaite Stover is the Director of Readers Services for Kansas City Public Library. To date, she provides book club support to 60 book groups in the Kansas City area. If you need more, find fun facts here.