It’s harder than you think to choose a book list! Every year, the CAE Book Groups team reads almost one hundred books between us and then selects about twenty for our annual Dialogue list. We know. Poor us. What a tough job to have to read a bunch of new books every year and choose the best ones. Actually, it’s a long process with many points to consider. We need books of high quality that promote discussion, are enjoyable for our members, and reflect publishing trends and contemporary culture at large.

In celebration of our 2020 Dialogue going out to our book groups this month, here is what we look for when choosing our annual book club selection list:

Is our List Balanced?

Does our list have a range of genres, themes, local and international authors, prize winners and bestsellers, personal favourites, styles of writing, topical and historical issues, page lengths? Are there debut authors as well as CAE book group favourites like Margaret Atwood, Tony Birch, Richard Flanagan, Helen Garner, Ann Tyler and Tim Winton? While we know our members love these authors and eagerly await their new books, we believe it’s extremely important to include some new authors, especially Australian authors. We also assess our list every year to see if there is a classic or older title that we could add to enrich our backlist. Above all, our program is a celebration of books and literature, and we want to ensure we include any classic that has had a revival or is newly relevant to contemporary culture.

Will our Members love these Books?

CAE Book Groups has been running since the 1940s. That’s a lot of members, book selections and feedback! As one of Australia’s oldest and largest book clubs, we like to think we have a good grasp of the type of books our members love to read, and so our selections are always carefully considered for their ‘enjoyability’ as well as their ability to generate discussion. Sometimes we choose a title that may be challenging – either in topic or writing style – but it’s because the book has moved us, and we know our members will appreciate its importance in the literary canon.

What was our Reading Experience?

Have you ever read a book and had it tug at your guts, heart, soul? Guaranteed, this kind of book falls into our lap at least a couple of times a year and it moves us so much, we know we have to share the love! At Book Groups, we are all big readers (as you’d expect!) and draw on a range of industry experience when considering our annual titles, but of course, we all have personal favourites and swear that we will die if they’re not included on the list!

We document every book we read for the program. Here is a little backstage peek at the initial reactions we had for books that ended up being added to our 2020 list.

 

normal-people by sally rooneyNormal People [B2293] by Sally Rooney

“The book was an amazing portrayal of the complexities of relationships and inter-class relationships, as well as the effects of male and class privilege and cycles of abuse. I personally loved it and devoured it in one evening. It really is an amazingly written book with so much depth and character, and for that reason it should be considered for the list. It’s been over a month and I’m still thinking about the book and the characters.”

  • Longlisted: 2018 Man Booker Prize
  • Longlisted: 2019 Women’s Prize for fiction
  • Winner: 2018 Waterstone’s Book of the Year
  • Winner: 2018 ‘Best Novel’ Costa Book Awards

 

 

the arsonist by chloe hooperThe Arsonist [B2291] by Chloe Hooper

“Brilliant book, taking up after The Tall Man. Nonfiction narrative, almost ‘reportage’, that explores the mindset and different perspectives surrounding the Black Saturday fires in Morwell and Kinglake. Well-balanced, the writing is without bias and really explores the themes of opportunity, poverty, bullying, discrimination and small-town thinking. I cried numerous times. Summary: it’s a hell yes.”

  • Shortlisted: 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards (Non-Fiction)

 

 

circe by madeline millerCirce [B2301] by Madeline Miller

“Unique, gripping, brilliant and beautifully written first-person account from the viewpoint of a demi-goddess in Greek mythology. References many characters, tales, myths and poets of the Ancient Greek era and offers a thoughtful, detailed analysis of the treatment of women within the myths of Ancient Greece. Loved it.”

  • Shortlisted: 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction
  • Longlisted: 2019 Stella Prize

 

 

no-friend-but-the-mountainsNo Friend but the Mountains [B2304] by Behrouz Boochani

“Top pick for a non-fiction addition to the list. Extraordinary and disturbing account of a man who has undergone five years of incarceration and exile on Manus Island. An important and powerful book.”

  • Shortlisted: 2019 National Biography Award
  • Winner: 2019 NSW Premier’s Award
  • Winner: 2019 ‘General Non-Fiction’ ABIA Awards
  • Winner: 2019 Prize for Non-fiction and overall Victorian Prize for Literature, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

 

 

the corset by laura purcellThe Corset [B2296] by Laura Purcell

“Of all the gothic novels on the shortlist, this is the strongest of all. Not too literary and not too genre, this reads like a gothic Sarah Waters novel, very evocative of the Victorian times where it is set. Plenty of discussion themes around the protagonist, raises questions until the end, and a highly enjoyable read. Highly recommended as an addition to the list.”