By September 9, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Deal Breakers for Book Groups, Part 2

Last week, I began this series of posts, looking at qualities in books that are deal breakers for their selection by groups. The first post dealt with general procedures for identifying your group’s deal breakers and factoring them into your selection process. I’d like to continue the series by discussing some of the particular deal breakers.


Even groups with an affluent membership may face a revolt if the cost of books is too high. It’s a good policy to think carefully before selecting a title that’s only available in hardback unless it’s one of the select few titles targeted by booksellers for big price reductions. Don’t expect libraries to bail your members out here: we often have hold lists for new titles marketed to book groups. Besides, there is something to be said for waiting to see if the book’s prominence survives the original hype. Wait for the paperback option; keep price on your list of deal breakers.


As a librarian, I cringe when I hear some of the titles selected by book groups. Titles that are out of print or only available through specialty publishers are just a bad idea. Selecting them is a mistake that will result in frustrated readers who don’t come to the meeting. The error is especially common in groups that rotate selection through each member. This system can lead to some great, esoteric picks, but if you use it, require that selectors introduce their choices at least two months in advance and bring an alternate title in case something about the first choice proves problematic. Call your local library and see how many copies of the selection are in the system and if there is a big hold list. Check to see if it’s in stock at local bookstores or back-ordered with major online booksellers. A little homework will save a lot of aggravation.


Modern lives are busy, and even hardcore readers appreciate room in their reading list for titles beyond the book group selection. So as much as I’d love for groups to be able to take on titles with pages counts over 500, it probably isn’t a good idea. If your group is more social than literary, you might want an even lower limit, maybe under 350 pages. You can spread long titles over two months, but it’s difficult in practice to divide the discussion. Do, however, consider pacing as well as length. Some long books read quickly while some titles of 350 pages or less can still be difficult to digest in one month for many readers. You might consider choosing one long book a year, skipping one meeting to allow extra reading time.


There’s nothing wrong with selecting the first book in a series for your book group. Frame the resulting discussion by asking whether readers will continue and why. Make a spoiler warning though: ask readers who have already continued in the series not to reveal later elements. Unless the series does not require sequential reading, later books in series are best skipped, even if the group read the earlier work. Some members will still have missed the first book, others will not want to continue, and even when everyone wants to proceed, much of the discussion may have been expended on the first title.


Perhaps it’s a pet peeve, but I’m always taken aback when I see book group leaders casting about too desperately for discussion questions. If you read the book, you are capable of writing your own discussion questions. For help, try the five-part series of posts I wrote on this subject previously on Book Group Buzz, starting with Part 1. Don’t let the lack of a pre-packaged list of questions be a deal breaker. That said, a book by an unknown, first-time author with little biographical material posted on the web does lose one fruitful aspect of discussion. Lack of discussion materials is not the same as just plain difficult to discuss. I’ll discuss literary elements that can be deal breakers because they inhibit discussion in the third post in this series next week.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Deal Breakers for Book Groups, Part 2"

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  1.' Alex says:

    Taking different formats into consideration can also help focus title selection. Several of my book club members prefer our titles in audio format. This includes myself – my daily commute is how I get my book club reading done!

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