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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Attention Book Discussion Leaders: Picking Better Books for Your Group

Reading Group Choices is one of my favorite resources as a book discussion leader.

They just released the results of the 2015 Annual Survey of the most popular book discussion books according to their readers.  You can also click here to access the page with the results from every year's survey from 2002 to the present!

First a word about each annual survey. Take the current 2015 survey results as an example. Since they ask all of their readers to contribute their favorites the results are as varied as the book discussion groups themselves.  We have titles from middle grade chapter books (Wonder which does lead to an excellent discussion for any age group) to YA to adult fiction, nonfiction, and even graphic novels!

And the titles for 2015 are not all the brand new and shiny titles that you see recommended by the publishers.  There are some titles that go back a few years on this 2015 list.

Which leads me to....

Second, a word about the BACKLIST goodness of the page with all of the annual favorite results. Many of the titles on the 2105 list were on the 2014 list and some were on the year before that too [and so on]. Comparing the backlist of survey results at one time gives you a sense of the books that have endured over time and resonated with many book groups.

Enduring favorites are a great choice for any group because they are proven winners, year after year.

But an even more fun way to use this backlist is to click on a really old list, like this 2002 one:
  1. The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Plume)
  2. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Picador USA)
  3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little Brown)
  4. Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Vintage)
  5. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Grove)
  6. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand (Ballantine)
  7. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (HarperPerennial)
  8. John Adams by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster)
  9. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (Penguin)
  10. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperPerennial)
  11. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (Ballantine)
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Warner & HarperCollins)
  13. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (Ballantine)
  14. The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan (Ballantine)
  15. Jim the Boy by Tony Earley (Back Bay)
  16. The Jew Store by Stella Suberman (Algonquin)
  17. Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (HarperPerennial)
  18. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin)
  19. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Vintage)
  20. Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson (Ballantine)
What makes something a good book for discussion has nothing to do with its publication date. In fact, I would argue that the older the title, the more there might be to discuss. Does it still ring true? Can it be read differently as time passes? Why is this book still worth reading? Why was it so popular in 2002?

These are all great questions for a group to consider before you even get to talk about the book itself. I would highly recommend giving one of these older favorites a try.

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