The world is slowly returning to normal. Maybe your book club even started getting together again with social distancing savvy or maybe you’ve all become professional zoomers. Whatever approach you’re using, when it’s your turn to pick your book club’s next read, where do you turn? An online search? Sure, that can work. But, maybe it would be fun to pick something on your own and get some booklover street cred in the process. We’ve come up with five criteria we think are essential for any great book club selection. Six, if you count the wine!

Insist on a unique or interesting premise.

Some books can have different settings and characters but the general theme revolves around the same core ideas. There’s nothing wrong with this because books are told in many unique ways and all have their own voice. There are only so many themes out there so some are bound to be repeated. However, when choosing a book for your club, it’s important that the theme isn’t one your group has recently explored. It will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re venturing into new territory versus treading over the same old ground. We love the premise of Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton.

Identify good writing to help keep readers engaged.

Okay, we admit this one seems obvious. But, how do you know if a book is well-written without reading it all the way through or at least a lot of it? Number one, it has to grab you right at the beginning. If it doesn’t do that at first, it isn’t going to get any better later. Books aren’t like a Netflix series where the pilot is a little slow going but after an episode or two, you’re hooked. Another thing to look for is whether the writer’s style is active or passive. An active style will engage you to see things as the characters do. A passive style will explain things. While a passive style can be okay at first, it can get old quickly when you’re reading an entire book. Another easy way to test a book is to listen to a sample on Audible. You’ll get a feel for the tone and pace of the book and be able to decide quickly if you like it. And, guess what? If you like it, that probably means it’s well-written! Easy! Award-winning author Keiichiro Hirano has a gorgeously written book At The End of the Matinee that would make a terrific book club selection.

Understand contrast is the best conversation starter.

A great book club book is chocked full of controversial choices and characters. A choice you don’t agree with or a character you strongly dislike makes for great discussions. If you want people to participate, you need to get them riled up! Sometimes what we end up talking most about is the character that drives us crazy with their terrible choices. Try to choose a book that has deep material to dig into. It can’t just be a great book that everyone loves. It has to be a book that stirs up strong emotion. Strong emotion is the forerunner to a great conversation! Horizon by Tabitha Lord is an award-winning science fiction novel that is replete with contrasting characters and subtle themes are woven through its engaging action! It makes for a book club read that is both fun and multi-dimensional.

Look for characters that have depth.

There is no great story that doesn’t have great characters, and great characters always have one thing in common – they are multi-layered. The good guy doesn’t always do the right thing or the villain has a horrific past that doesn’t justify their actions but makes them less easy to throw into the “pure evil” category. The best ones don’t fit what writers call a trope. A trope is a type of character or story arc that is easy to predict because it’s been told over and over again – think every fairytale ever written. If the book you’re considering has characters that sound too familiar, skip it, there’s something better out there! Profound and Perfect Things: A Novel by Maribel Garcia has beautifully drawn and complex characters that are sure to inspire much discussion!

Consider the logistics.

Then there are the not-so-exciting aspects but if you want a great discussion, you have to consider things like the length of the book, how much it costs, and how easy it is to get. There are some fantastic books out there that are also a bazillion pages long. If you want an animated discussion, you’re not going to get that from a book no one read. The real magic happens when most people read at least some of the book. Brainstorm by A.M. Wilhelm is a superb choice in that regard. It’s super fast-paced and explores topics like illegal government research and the limits of morality. And, it’s short, the kind of book you’ll whip through in a day or two!

Whether you’re getting together remotely or are masking up and social distancing, your next book club meeting is sure to be a success if you follow these five easy tips for selecting a book. Wait a minute, six, the wine!