Book Club Tip

#1 Book Club Tip: Don’t Please Everyone

Want a Great Book Club Discussion?

Whenever I make a list of book club suggestions, I’m sure to point out how valuable I find disagreement. We all want to read books we love, but I see book club as a way to branch out from regular reading and dig deep into a title, whether it’s good or bad.

Gushing Can Get Old

It’s an amazing feeling to read a book you adore and come together with other people who love it, too, but there’s only so much discussion that can happen around something that is universally loved. Unless your group has someone who is seriously willing to play devil’s advocate, the talk can only go so far. Gushing is fantastic, but it fizzles quickly without a spark.

Disagreement Fuels Conversation

The best spark? Disagreement! I don’t mean cutting down each other’s opinions (we need to find a new group if you’re worried that will happen), but using your time together to point out a book’s highs and lows. Hearing opposing opinion can be incredibly valuable, whether you loved a book or couldn’t wait for it to end.

Seek Out Controversy

Don’t be afraid to go for a book with mixed reviews, especially if they’re super polarized. If you asked ten book bloggers how they felt about Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau, you’d likely get five scowls and five swoons. Goodreads feels the same—the book has almost an equal number of five and two star ratings. But books like that make for the best discussions. They’re discussions that are challenging and interesting and everything a book club is supposed to be.

Have you found that disagreement can fuel your book club discussions?


  • Oh, I so agree with this post. The best discussions we’ve had in my book club are the controversial books OR the books that half the people loved and half the people hated!

    • Yes, they always seem to work great for my group, too! It’s kind of tricky to nail down, but when you do it’s wonderful.

  • Completely agree! Convincing everyone that this is a good idea, though, isn’t as easy. Everyone wants to be on the loving end. I think there’s a difference, though, between hating a book because it’s just awful and hating a book because it makes you mad or you don’t agree with what happened. A book that I hate for that reason I still kind of love. If that makes any sense. Just plain awful books don’t really lead to much discussion, because nobody cares about them.
    I might have to draw my book club’s attention to this post!

    • DEFINITELY a difference between disliking and the book actually being awful. And I totally know what you mean about still appreciating a book you disliked – sometimes (especially with good discussion) they can be the most interesting to analyze.

  • Kay

    I agree completely with this whole post. I’ve been involved with book groups for about 9 years. It was part of my job when I worked at the library (imagine getting paid for that!). I still attend the ‘fiction/non-fiction’ group as a member and I still moderate the mystery group as a volunteer. Disagreement always makes for good discussion and it’s up to the moderator to keep it cordial. Over the years we’ve had books we all agreed on – boring discussion; books no one liked – better than all in agreement; half and half – best discussions ever. Selecting books for a mystery group is a bit more challenging for the discussion angle, but we are all true mystery lovers and if there’s not a lot to talk about, we branch out into TV, movies, what else everyone is reading, etc. We’ve crept around the edges of sci-fi (The Last Policeman) and YA (that’s our theme for April), and non-fic. And it’s all been great. I told the mystery group in the very beginning that we were not going to be reading the ‘best sellers’. We’d be sampling the mid-list authors or even below the mid-list. There are some great books out there that get little notice. For me, I just love talking books with others. In whatever venue. :-)

    • I love that you don’t go for the bestsellers…there are definitely great books in the mid-list! And so many of them get overlooked far too often.

  • I completely agree with you! The very worst selections we’ve had have been ones where everyone reads the book and comes in with “I LOVED it!” “Good book!” and then….nothing. There is NOTHING to discuss. Not everyone likes every book we choose, and our biggest problem is that some will not stick with a book if your don’t like it right away. And we’ve had issues where a selection was controversial because of the politics of a book….avoid those! LOL! But we do great if it is a disagreement on a decision a character made, etc.

    • Ooo yeah, it can definitely be tricky if people won’t read all the way through…at least they’ll have a bit to contribute, but you have to hope everyone doesn’t hate it!

  • Lisa Almeda Sumner

    Yes, I totally agree! You wouldn’t believe how (politely) heated things got we we discussed (of all things) Ethan Frome! Ha! Who knew? It was one of our best discussions ever, and half of us hated the book or some of its characters.

    • Ah, I could totally see that with Ethan Frome! That’s one people seem to be crazy for or just find unbearable.

  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    Excellent advice! My book club rarely has a great discussion when everyone loves the book.

    • They just seem to fizzle out so quickly! It can definitely be a good palate cleanser, but you always need a little more.

  • Absolutely! I can say that my online book club fell apart because we had one too many books in which we all agreed. There is no incentive to discuss anything when you know the answer is going to be, “I know! Right?”

  • My book club is incredibly agreeable and we pick our books by voting among several choices, so it’s not common for there to be many people who didn’t like the book. We also don’t really get into debates even if some of us don’t. When it’s my turn to pick, I generally go for things that cover a controversial topic in hopes of still driving some good conversation :)

    • Controversial topics seem to be a great discussion generator, even if everyone tends to agree it’s much easier to play devil’s advocate.

  • I agree so much about the gushing!! It does get old, and my book club tends to do that a lot…just before the off topic convos begin. I recently compiled a list of questions to deal out to everyone prior to reading the book club choice in hopes to spark better conversation. I think we need a better recommendation protocol in my book club, too.

    • Oh, we do a ton of off topic convos, too. We’re a pretty loosey goosey book club, so it all works, but I definitely prefer some good debate :)

  • Alex (Sleepless Reader)

    Completely agreed! The best discussions I’ve ever been to where those where people really, passionately, disagreed. Gone Girl, One Day and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union comes to mind

  • Absolutely! Some friends and I coined a system for my book club in New York (sob I miss it) where the person who liked the last book least got to choose for next time. They would offer three options, and everyone would vote blind. That way, there was still the potential for lots of disagreement in the book club, but nobody would start feeling like their tastes weren’t getting taken into account in the selection process. And the disagreement was great — even for books I haaaaaated, the discussion made me think in more depth about them and appreciate their good qualities. (Jenny glowers at Marilynne Robinson.)

  • Both of my book clubs have disbanded, and it makes me so sad! I TOTALLY agree re: the disagreement factor… it’s kind of boring if everyone likes it. I’m interested to hear what the rest of your book club members thought about Gold Fame Citrus…..

  • Absolutely dull when everyone loves a book 100%. That doesn’t mean someone has to HATE it, but a willingness to discuss the strong and weak points just means you’re actually, you know, going to have a meaningful discussion. ;)

    Sometimes I wish I had read The Unbearable Lightness of Being with a book club, because I’ve never hated a book more and so many seem to love it. I want to see how they would have defended it to me.

    Now if only I could find a fun, real-life book club!

    • YES, it’s definitely so interesting to discuss a book you hate, especially if you can get insight from someone who did like it.

  • I’m reading through all the comments and a little jealous that everyone finds that disagreements lead to better discussions because that’s not the case with the one I’m in. Generally, members won’t even finish if they don’t like it. Or they might just say they hated it and that’s that. In all fairness, I think it has more to do with the fact that the meeting is viewed as more of a social hour than a discussion time, and perhaps people don’t want to spoil that with talking about issues they may disagree on? I’d love this one for the people but would definitely like to join another with more of a focus on reading.

    • Such a bummer that people give up! But that’s definitely something you have to take into consideration if you decide to go this route of planning for disagreement…sometimes it can backfire ;)

  • Great ideas & suggestions. The small book club I’m in agrees too much and therefore it often lacks a discussion spark. I remember the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother divided some folks and got us talking. Also the book Infidel and perhaps Never Let Me Go were good discussions.

    • Ooo, I would love to talk Never Let Me Go with a book club. I wasn’t fond of it at all, but I know many people loved it.

  • The face-to-face book club I facilitate sucks at this! I totally agree with you, but few I am basically the only adventurous reader among the group, so it makes for pretty lackluster discussions at times! :) I am working on trying to encourage a bit more diversity in our choices…

  • Care

    It can be difficult to guess the books that have split reactions – that have some loving it and others not so much – that spark those good discussions. Which is one reason I do like goodreads ratings when I find a book that has the smattering of five stars with 2 stars.