One of our favorite things to do is to help book clubs make their selections for the year. We'll be meeting with the AAUW (American Association of University Women) next weekend to give a book talk for their book club. We've done this in the store a couple of times, and are happy to do it for your book club, too!
I've found that good book club books have a couple of characteristics:
1. It needs to have something to discuss. This might seem obvious, but several times we've selected perfectly lovely books that everyone has enjoyed reading, only to have the discussion go something like: "Well, we all liked it." Blank looks as everyone wonders what to say next. So a good romance novel, unless you like gossiping about fictional characters, is probably going to leave you at a loss for discussion unless it deals with other issues, like mother-daughter relationships, adoption, the hardships of uprooting a family for a move, etc. A novel like Baking Cakes in Kigali,on the other hand, opens up discussion about rebuilding after the Rwandan genocides, the differences in African culture, how people help each other, and, of course, cake. Speaking of which...
2. Food is a plus. That's both within the book and at the book group. It's fun to hang out with your buddies and nosh on some treats while you talk books! So a book like The School of Essential Ingredients, set in a cooking school, can give you a springboard to talk about what foods were important for you growing up, and why. What is familiar and comforting, and how do you take a bit of risk?
3. Too depressing is just too depressing. We started our first book club as a way to get away from the "Oprah books" that were sweeping the nation. Nothing against Oprah, but she sure does like downers. One memorable book dealt with the Indian partition and showed in graphic detail all the misery, disease, poverty and filth of India. A dog was even run over by a bus at the end, just to make sure that depression escaped no reader. I just don't have it in me to read that all the time. Deep doesn't have to mean depressing. Isn't hope a powerful emotion? Aren't redemption and wisdom worthy topics? For example, The Help certainly deals with a weighty topic, but manages to do it in a way that won't make you feel like downing a bottle of Jack Daniels in order to deal with it.
4. Change it up. Try books by men and women, of all nationalities and cultures, in order to get that different perspective that can make for a great discussion. Recently, I've loved Tea Obreht,who hails from the former Yugoslavia, and her book The Tiger's Wife. I also am a big fan of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, set in 19th century Japan. Or how about Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth for a perspective into the Indian immigration experience?
5. Think about length. We usually cut our book selections off at about 400 pages unless we've got a really good reason to want to read, say, Anna Kerenina. Everyone's lives are busy, and many people want to read more than their book club selection during a month, so we try to be respectful of their time. We also usually go with paperbacks, to be sensitive to the costs of books. We do offer a 20% discount to book club selections for your book club if someone lets us know what the selection is at least 1 month ahead of time.
6. Ask a bookseller! Want something different than what everyone else is reading? Need a jump on the next book club blockbuster? We are happy to help with off-beat books, up-and-comers, and whatever you need for a great meeting. I think The Paris Wife is going to be a huge book club book, for example, and I love recommending Garden Spells (a great little book which somehow got overlooked) for folk hunting for good suggestions.
I hope this gave you some thoughts for your group, and hopefully some great books to read!