1. Meeting too frequently - Because people who belong to book groups tend to be avid readers, they want to have time to read books of their own choosing, aside from the ones that have been selected for the group. Although I know of groups that meet on a monthly basis, I am much more comfortable running a group that meets every six weeks.
2. Regularly choosing books that are more than 400 pages - I know that some of you out there are going to disagree with me on this one, but I think that people are more likely to go along with reading a book that they might not otherwise have chosen to read as long as it is perceived as being not too much of a committment on their part. When I really wanted to do a book that was more than 500 pages (The World According to Garp), I asked the group's permission first.
3. Choosing titles that are too similar in geographic or chronological setting- I know that there are book groups that exist for the purpose of reading around a particular theme, but I like the challenge of coming up with books that hew to the theme I refer to as "tsuris (Yiddish for troubles) around the world." Although at least half of the books my library group has read have dealt with tsuris of the American brand, we have also read about tsuris of the Dutch, English, central African, Canadian, Russian, Chinese, Greek. Eastern European, Japanese, Irish, Indian, Bosnian, Vietnamese and Korean varieties. There has even been diversity within our category of American tsuris, with books that have had us sampling troubles that were inherent to various locations in New England, the deep South, Johnstown , Pennsylvania (during the time before the great flood), Manhattan, ( various times between 1900 and the present), Brooklyn, Jersey City, Newark, Alaska, a Japanese American interment camp during World War II, San Francisco, Boston, along the Mississippi River, Los Angeles and the Ozark Mountains.
4. Not coming prepared with questions that are more provocative than "what did you think of this book?" - Although some books come published with their own set of book group questions in the back and it is also not too difficult to find ready made discussion questions on the web, I find it worth the time and effort to make up my own sets of questions based on my impressions of the book. I specifically ask the group members to offer their opinions with regard to the author's skill as a storyteller, the author's ability as a creator of realistic and interesting characters, and also what they think about the author's overall ability to use language in a beautiful way.
5. Selecting titles that support a particular political agenda- Although I don't know for sure the political leanings of everyone in the book group, I am fairly certain that our imembers run the full political gamut from right to left and I see no point in choosing titles that are going to offend one segment of the group or another or raise the potential for the discussion to veer off into tirades or hurt feelings. It's possible that none of the above may happen, but with a book group that is open to anyone from the public who happens to walk in, I'm not willing to take that chance.
6. Selecting a string of titles that are unrelentingly depressing - Although It's easier to sustain a discussion of life's pathos and injustices, too much tsuris can just be such a downer. Still, it's a real challenge to come up with truly discussable books that have a happy or at least somewhat upbeat ending. We've broken things up by doing such titles as The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; Final Payments, by Mary Gordon; The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and The School of Essential Ingredients, by Julie Bauermeister - and even these books are not without their element of tsuris. Suggestions, anyone?
7. Letting one person monopolize the discussion or allowing disagreements to degenerate into personal attacks - This needs no explanation.
8. Consistently picking books that are too obscure - Our group attracts new participants whenever we do something that has a huge fan base, books like like Pride and Prejudice or To KIll a Mockingbird.
9. Thinking that because a book has won a major literary award, everyone is going to enjoy reading it - A few years back, I picked Waiting, by Ha Jin because it had recently been the recipient of a National Book Award. Not only did no one (including me) like the book, but none of us could figure out why it had been considered worthy of the award.
9. Not serving refreshments - you would be surprised at the amount of good will a pot of coffee and a box of donuts can generate.