11 Book Club Books Guaranteed to Get Everyone Talking
These great reads are perfect for sparking discussion, spirited debate, and lively conversation (over wine, obviously.)
What makes a good book group read?
Hint: It’s not about trying to make sure everyone will like the book. What’s more important for good book club books is discuss-ability—are there topics in the book that will ignite great conversation? That’s the goal. You want something readable, but with depth; relatable in some way, but also expansive. Something that makes you think, but doesn’t make your head hurt trying to decipher what it all means. And let’s face it, something that’s not a two-inch thick doorstop. Keeping that in mind, here are some suggestions for book club books.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
A charismatic Pakistani man meets with a mysterious American stranger in a café in Lahore. The entire novel is this conversation, which covers the narrator’s complicated past. The ending is a doozy, guaranteed to trigger intense discussion. Find out what defined your past with the most popular book from the year you were born.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
This is one of those book club books where you just can’t believe that this author—an American from California—wrote that book. The North Korea setting rings eerily true, and Johnson created one of the most unique and unforgettable protagonists in contemporary fiction. The setting, the politics, the characters, the sheer brilliance of the entire story is built for discussion. These are the books by female authors that every woman should read.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
This memoir makes an excellent choice for a family book group, as it’s short, accessible, and very relevant to today’s complicated political and social landscape. It speaks to young and old, male and female, urban and rural. Vance grew up in rural West Virginia, and his own story, told with deep insight and a sprinkling of humor, helps shed light on the divisions in our country today. A good choice for a family vacation or family reunion book group.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This sweeping and emotionally riveting saga contains a rich stew of topics to discuss. Africa and America, love and loss, healing and medicine, and the meaning of home. Don’t forget to dig into the author’s bio, too—he’s remarkable, as shown by the fact that this is the first novel he ever wrote. Oh, and he’s a practicing MD too. Amazing.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
A great nonfiction choice for either a family book group or perhaps a couples book group where one spouse is a semi-reluctant reader. On the surface, it’s a sports story about the men’s crew team that raced in the 1936 Olympics—but it’s much more than a sports book. The tale is chock-full of life lessons: resilience, determination, tiny miracles, luck, hard work. Add to that some great historical tidbits, compelling characters, and even the surprisingly fascinating physics behind what makes a boat fast. If you think you don’t like sports stories, give this one a try anyway.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This is a must on our book club books list, a wonderful wallow of a book that transports the reader into another world, with charismatic characters you won’t soon forget. The protagonist, known simply as The Count, is a Russian aristocrat under house arrest at a famous Moscow hotel circa the 1920s. With uncrushable optimism, The Count is determined to live a full and enriching life within the confines of the hotel. He befriends a variety of zany characters, from spies to thieves, revolutionaries to spirited children, movie stars to hotel maids. His zest for life, even when severely limited by his circumstances, is inspirational. While this one’s longish, it reads quickly and you’ll be sorry when the last page is turned. A Gentleman in Moscow would also be fit for interesting book club questions that everyone can enjoy participating in.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishaguro
This one stays with you. The author blends utter normalcy with the unthinkable, and somehow that juxtaposition echoes in the mind well after you finish the book. The writing is gorgeous, the characters likable, and the twist underlying everything is utterly chilling. And scarily enough, while the premise might seem like pure science fiction, if you think about it, it’s not all that farfetched. Or is it? This question alone is sure to spark thoughtful debate among your group.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Full disclosure: Not everyone will like this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, and it can be a challenging read. But no way will you have a boring discussion if your group reads this dark tale of the apocalypse. Plus the spare, searing prose is gorgeous. One to choose when your group is feeling ambitious.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
If you want to be reminded of the potential good in people, this novel is a fine choice. It’s the story of a group of very different folks from various walks of life who are thrown together when they’re held hostage by terrorists. Despite the adversity they experience, the situation brings out the best in each person. It’s a story of how friendship and love can evolve in the most unusual of circumstances.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
An unforgettable memoir of a dysfunctional family, this is another choice that might work well as a family read. You can talk about your own dysfunction! Then again, maybe this will make your family feel incredibly normal for a change. The true story is remarkable, brilliantly told, and even funny at times. Lots of topics to ponder between these covers—parenting, family, mental illness, the resilience of children, to name a few.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Admittedly, the topic in this nonfiction book is heavy: death. But what could be more universal? Death literally affects everyone, and in spite of it, we don’t talk about it. What is a “good” death? What happens when medicine intervenes, and when is it too much? This one’s sure to provoke a deep and important discussion. Every now and again a “topic” book can cleanse the palate, so to speak, of a book group that generally focuses on fiction.
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