What makes the best books for book clubs?
I’ve thought about this question a lot of over the years. Every book club is different, but I’ve found that most people want to to join a book club to talk about books. It’s a great way to get to know people, but you have to get people talking. So the best book for book clubs are not necessarily the ones that everyone would like, but are ones that generate discussion and are a little divisive. You want people to have an opinion beyond “it was okay, I guess.”
Books that Get People Talking
Books that prompt conversation are often about a big issue or theme. Sometimes it’s good to choose books with interesting format or structure, as that can also be topic of discussion. Unlikeable characters are great, too—I love hearing people dissect their motivations.
Read Outside Your Comfort Zone
I also think book club is a great opportunity to get people reading outside of their comfort zone, whether that means picking up a new genre or trying books written by authors from diverse backgrounds.
The best book clubs mix nonfiction and fiction, and occasionally try a middle grade or young adult novel. Variety keeps things interesting. Even in a mystery book club, there’s room for mixing it up with supernatural thrillers, police procedurals, and cozy mysteries. Readers may surprise themselves.
In Lawrence, I was in three different book clubs: one with teen readers, a YA for grownups book club, and a feminist book group. Now that I’ve moved, I really miss it talking books! At the top of my list of new programs to add to my new library is all the book clubs (or at least one), so I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to read for book club. Here would be my picks for a year’s worth of monthly book club meetings.
Out of the Ordinary Book Club Picks
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This novel is one of those big, buzzy books from a few years ago that I never got around to reading (even though I checked it out at least twice). It’s the story of the world before and after a major pandemic, and a group of artists who try to keep culture alive. Not everyone is comfortable with genre fiction, but this one is close enough to real life and literary in style, so that makes it a good fit for any sci-fi newbies.
Death with Interruptions by José Saramago
Saramago is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of his most accessible novels. It’s a satire about what happens when death “takes a vacation” and no one is able to die in an unnamed country. It features Saramago’s trademark style and dark, witty humor.
As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway
This is a mystery about a missing teenage girl a.k.a not one of my go-to novels. But it’s also by the author of one of my favorite YA novels, The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand. Galloway made the Alex Awards list with it, so I know it has crossover appeal and is a pretty sure pick for a book I haven’t read (Alex Award winners have always been a hit with me).
Palimpsest by Cat Valente
A sexy, lush fantasy about chance encounters and maps to secret, unknown worlds is perfect for adding variety to book club selections. It’s one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, even though it’s not particularly well known.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Okay, so the fact that this has library in the title is definitely what piqued my interest when it first came out. Still, I haven’t gotten around to reading it, even though my sister and Mister BS both loved this creepy fantasy with a touch of horror.
Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel by Jessica Knoll
trigger warning This is a novel about a survivor with a secret. It’s been described as intense and compelling, and it seems like the type of novel that would generate a lot of discussion.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Butler is a master of science fiction, and this novel that tells the story of a modern woman who time travels to a plantation during slavery is thought-provoking.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Like I said, every book club should throw some nonfiction into the mix. These essays are fun and smart. Basically, a must-read.
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Most book clubs focus on modern books, but sometimes I like to mix in a classic. The Custom of the Country is a lesser known Wharton novel, but one of my favorites. It’s all about a woman with ambition and how she defies social convention and the feelings of other to get what she wants. This novel is a great character study full of irony.
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
I’ve read this novel three times, and I’d still read it again for a book club, because each time, the conversation is different and fascinating. In this novel, a boy with a secret narrates in alternating chapters of before and after a pivotal event. It’s so tense and surprising, and I love hearing new perspectives on it.
Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
Every book club should also check out one new release! Homegoing is my favorite book club type book of the year. This story of two half sisters and their descendants is not only beautifully written, it’s thought-provoking.
What are your picks for best books for book clubs? Check out the rest of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday lists for more ideas!
For more book club picks, check out these posts: