Book Club Blues—when no one likes the books

bcblues-noonelikes1A cry for help—this one from a reader on our Facebook page. Its a fairly common book club problem. Recognize it?

I'm leading the discussion at my next book club—for a book I chose. But I found out most of the members didn't care for it. In fact, the organizer of my group hated it so much she wouldn't read or finish it. Kind of difficult to have discussion. Any advice would help.

Oops. It's your turn to lead the discussion...and no one likes the book. Even worse...YOU chose the book. What to do?

Start with the obvious—why don't members like the book? It can be as rewarding to explore the reasons you don't like a book as the reasons you do. And don't let people get away with "I just couldn't get into it" or "it was boring." The point is to be expansive, to engage in a give-and-take of ideas.

You disliked the book because of its...

Too wordy or difficult? Too clunky or awkward? Too overwrought? Too pompous?

Too slow getting off the ground? Too contrived? Too predictable? Too little plot (a character- or idea-driven novel).

Too undeveloped or one-dimensional? (No emotional or psychological depth) Too perfect? (Irritating or lack believability.) Too unlikeable? (Stubborn or immature...arrogant, selfish, or petty...even villainous, like Humboldt Humboldt in Lolita)

Too unfocused. Too much back and forth between time frames? Too much shifting between characters and points-of-view? Too many unrelated subplots? If not handled well, shifts can be confusing or interrupt the narrative flow.

Do the ideas, philosophy, worldview of the author or characters disturb you, go up against your own values? Maybe there are no ideas—the book is shallow, unchallenging, and offers no ideas worth thinking about.


A good discussion, whether it's a book you love or hate, helps clarify what types of works you prefer. Most important, though, good discussions often change minds. Who might decide you like the book after all.

Be sure to see our READ-THINK-TALK chart. It's a handy guide for helping you think about a book while you read.


0 #3 Betty Hafner 2012-03-07 15:35
Terrific site. It's a great resource for people starting or participating in book clubs. I had to laugh at this question about leading a discussion on a book people disliked. I just led a discussion on "The Tiger's Wife" which critics told us we should adore but we didn't feel the love, not at all! I wrote about how uncomfortable it was in my monthly column for some newspapers in Maryland. You might want to check it out on my site. Thanks for what you're doing for readers.
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0 #2 Molly at LitLovers 2012-03-02 19:05
Hi, Joanne.

Great IS okay if people's likes and dislikes are all over the makes a discussion richer. Thanks for weighing in on this!
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0 #1 Joanne Tailele 2012-03-02 08:54
We went about four months in a row when nobody was crazy about the book selections. We decided to make a new rule that at least one person must have read the book to recommend it. There are still times where the ranking are all over the board, but we feel that is okay. We are a divirse group and like to hear both the pros and the cons on the books. What is sometimes interesting, is we give it a secret rating (1-5) with 5 being the highest, before the discussion, and then we rate it out loud at the end. Many times, some of us have changed our rating after the discussion because things were brought out we never thought about.
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