Ten Traits of a Great Book Club Book

 

bookclubs, dolls house, Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian Americans, writing, books, reading

Great book club books!

Have you ever sat in book club and wondered why there’s little to say? Not every book is a great book club read. Here are the traits that I believe make books potent book club material:

1.  A strong lead character: Your hero/heroine needs to be after something; they need to be driven and dynamic, either solving problems, upsetting the social order, or leading the way.

2.  Give the lead character flaws: This is why Tolstoy wrote about unhappy families. People who are already leading exemplary lives are not very interesting (unless they give them up). Characters need to grow and change over the course of a book, and they need to collide with their worst instincts and old habits again and again.

3.  An interesting or unusual setting: This can be exotic, historical, or magical.  Something different from the everyday can feed discussion.

4.  Ideas and opinions: There’s nothing like a book that explores interesting ideas, challenges the acceptable, or gives voice to perceptive and thoughtful characters. Illuminate something.

5.  A dynamic plot: What drives the action, and what feels inevitable? Is something foreshadowed or are developments a surprise? Bookclubbers love to dissect a good plot.

6.  Talk about love: Or at least show love in action. Everyone is curious about how love works, goes astray, doubles around or blooms. Make it a surprise; give it depth, color and sound.

7.  Quotable writing: Nearly every bookclub has someone who underlines the best wisdom and most beautiful lines from the book. A good bookclub book has plenty to share.

8.  Genuine secondary characters: The people around the lead character need to have depth, genuine feeling, and their own drive to get what they want or need. Make all your characters believable, whether good or bad. It makes them harder to dismiss, more likely to remind readers of someone they know.

9.  Leave a few threads hanging: Give your ending a window into the future. Speculating about what might happen later can be lots of fun.

10.  Serve food: Many books describe food or drink from a certain time and place, giving bookclubs a sure-fire guide to what they can offer at their next event. Make it all delicious.

Oct. 21, 2019

About Wendy Swallow

Wendy Swallow writes about women’s challenges, now and in the tender past. She is the author of Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce and The Triumph of Love over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage. Swallow became fascinated with Henrik Ibsen’s iconic character Nora Helmer after she left her first husband. Searching for Nora is her first historical novel.

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