Elements of an Effective Book Club Selection

Synthia Shilling, an attorney and former legal advisor to the United States Department of Agriculture, studied English education at the University of Maryland and later earned a master’s degree in English rhetoric at the University of Maryland College Park. When she is not working, Synthia Shilling enjoys reading with her book club.

There are a number of qualities that make a novel an effective book club selection. A book club selection should, above all else, promote discussion among a wide variety of readers. Books that feature characters that make one or more life-altering decisions are often successful in this regard, as many readers will have different perspectives on the characters’ choices. Novels that conclude ambiguously or without resolution can also serve as effective conversation subjects, as readers will be forced to speculate on the significance of the ending or on how the plot might continue to unfold.

Participants can also derive discussion from unique aesthetic or structural approaches taken by an author. Stories with unreliable narrators, for example, force readers to question every bit of information they are given. Holden Caulfield is perhaps the most discussed unreliable narrator in American literature. His overly cynical outlook on the adult world, coupled with the fact that he relays his story from a mental institution, places all of the novel’s scenes into question as careful readers try to determine the truth of his narrative.

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