How can I involve my group participants in selecting books?

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Choices Choices Choices

This is the secret to a great book club. Really, it is. If you always select the books to be read, and a book is a dud, guess who is “responsible” or who will feel that way, at any rate. You can make your book group members part of the leadership team by establishing a system for having them choose the books.

     First of all, you need to encourage people to regularly “nominate” political books that they think others would enjoy. I keep a running list of my own researched suggestions and add those suggested by participants, according to their topic, gradually developing a nomination list for each theme.  

   I research books by theme as well and select several that look good and meet the criteria for books we are willing to post, always merging the participant suggestions on to that list.

     I put the group to work on selecting themes as well. I select about 8 pertinent topics for the series, work up a simple ballot for them to put tally marks next to their top 3 choices and pass it around the table at the first group meeting (the one with the starter book you have chosen to get the ball rolling). It is clear immediately that this is their group and that they are going to have a say. You are not going to choose for them, but will facilitate a system in which they choose the books. When you send out the follow-up memo, list the chosen themes and at least one of those themes with a “nomination list” of the several books you have previously chosen in that category, as possibilities to read and discuss. Ask them to pick their favorite one in that category. I like to have a schedule of selections planned ahead for the year, so they may get a few repeat theme nominations until we have filled the year’s schedule. See the sample ballot.

          When I send out a ballot, I give them a week to read reviews on the book or do whatever they would like to decide which book they would like to read on that theme. Any more time than that and the e-mail “ballot” will get buried. Any less, and the conscientious among them will not be as well-informed on the choices as they may prefer. Not all will vote, probably not even the majority. But all have had a chance to influence which book is selected- and, by virtue of the criteria for listing books in the first place, the books are all informative and well-received by previous readers.

     You have had a lot of say in the book list you put in front of them and, from then on they are in charge. Fair system and it builds ownership within the group.