What Makes a Book Worth Talking About? A Veteran Book-Group Leader Weighs In

Book Group Buzz logoI have been a discussion leader since 1999 and the question I am most often asked is, “What exactly makes a book a good book-discussion pick?”

The first thing I say back is that most publishers aren’t correct in their estimation of what is a discussable book. I have lead as many as five different groups and they all agree that when a publisher blurb says a title will be good for book groups, proceed with caution. I know I am stirring the pot a bit but honestly, this has been my experience. Often the book that has a soft or quiet release offers the liveliest discussion of the year. It doesn’t have anything to do with page count or subject matter—it’s all in the writing style and how the author tells the story.

When a publisher says a title will be good
for book groups, proceed with caution.

lightbetweenoceansA great example of a discussable book is The Light between Oceans (2012), by M. L. Stedman. This debut novel by an Australian author quietly took the book-group world by storm (at least, here in Missouri!). Having fought in World War I, Tom Sherbourne returns home to find peace within himself. He meets Isabel, falls in love, and marries her. Tom brings Isabel to Janus Rock, a lighthouse on a remote island. There they grow to love one another, the land, and their isolation. One day, they find a rowboat holding a dead man and a crying baby. What happens next is some of the most original writing I have encountered for some time. When I finished it, I went back and re-read sections. This book haunts me, and several of my book-group members have brought it up in other discussions, comparing and contrasting characters and motivations.

And the only question I needed to start the discussion was, “Who was the bad guy in this book?” I didn’t have to do any prompting after that. There was so much to talk about with character motivations, the outcome, the epilogue, and the different uses of light within the story. You find a novel like this only once in a while and it stays with you. A great book-group recommendation, if you ask me.

What discussable qualities do you look for?

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About the Author:

Sue Dittmar is a Sunday Librarian and active member of the RAteam in the St. Charles City-County Library District (MO).

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