The pressure is intense. There are so many factors. There are so many options. There are so many people to please! How do you choose the perfect book for book club?
I’ve been a member of the best book club ever, The Nightlighters, for several years now. I know how lucky I am to have found a group of intelligent, thoughtful women to share in my love of all things bookish. But being part of such an incredible book club comes with some pressure, especially when the Wheel of Book Choice spins back around and points at me.
If you are familiar with my blog, you already know I’m an over-thinking, insomniac writer with obsessive tendencies. Obsessions include: books, buying books, thinking about books, writing books, thinking about writing books and, currently, frozen grapes. (They’re really good. Give it a try!)
Therefore, it’s of little surprise that when it’s my turn to choose the next book I think and rethink my choice over and over and…you get the point. Plus, I still get blamed for our first ever book, Midnight’s Children, which everyone else in the group hated. (And which I didn’t pick!) But it happens to be my second favorite book of all time and I gushed about how much I love it. So, now, I’m forever associated with my book club’s most infamously hated book!
This means added pressure to choose well!!!
And I haven’t always chosen well. Some of my choices have been real duds, for which I’d like a do-over. After several years of listening to the reactions to my book choices and the choices of others, I feel as if I can now make some decent recommendations for book club reads to stimulate great, and sometimes controversial, discussions.
The following books have all been discussed as part of my book club. If you’re struggling to determine a book for your book club needs (or if you just want to read and discuss with a friend!), check out these options.
If you want a book that will please everyone…
It’s rare that everyone in my book club universally likes a book. There’s often at least one lone holdout (or many). We don’t suffer from politeness-induced sugarcoating. We all understand reading is subjective. But Dark Matter was the exception. Everyone liked it. In addition, Goodreads recently added it to its list of best sci-fi books. You don’t have to be a sci-fi reader to enjoy it. It’s fast-paced, exciting and makes you questions reality! Not a bad choice for a book club.
If you’d like to get into a discussion psychology and personalities…
One of the earliest books chosen for the Nightlighter Book Club was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s a book I never would have read otherwise. However, from this book, and from the subsequent discussions, I learned so much about humans and how they tick. I now look back on this book club meeting as one of my favorites because it deepened my understanding of my book club friends.
If you want to talk about metaphor…
While I’d love to recommend Midnight’s Children here, I’m going to “take a page” from my previous experience and say this might not be the best choice for a book club. However, as an alternative try Vampires in the Lemon Grove. It’s a book of short stories filled with metaphors and very open to interpretation. And it’s just plain weird. Who doesn’t like weird?
If you want to read a classic book…
What constitutes “classic literature” is hotly debated. While I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a non-fiction book and not written by a stuffy white dude in the 18th century, I (and many others) believe it is a modern classic (or simply just a classic! I don’t know why people feel the need to tack modern on there.) My point is, if you want to read the classics in a book club, there are so many options beyond the outdated high school English lists. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a lyrical, powerful book that will definitely make people think and talk.
If you want to stir up controversy…
If your goal is to have an emotional (and potentially contentious discussion) may I recommend All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. This is a book basically justifying statutory rape in a way that may make readers actually root for the underage girl and adult man to get together… If that doesn’t stir up controversy in your group, I’m not sure what will.
Cautionary note: Discussing this book may lead to people locking themselves in the bathroom and sobbing…not saying that happened…but it’s possible. So beware.
If you’re looking for a memoir…
Non-fiction comes in many forms and my book club has read several different types, including memoirs such as Wild, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and When in French: Love in a Second Language, all of which were great choices. But, I think Leaving Before the Rains Come sparked a deeper conversation because the experience of the writer was foreign to our US-based book club, but her emotional experience was extremely relatable.
If you’d like to enlighten…
Despite great strides in LGBTQAI rights, many people still harbor prejudice toward the community. Negative attitudes are often built on fear of the unknown. One of my favorite things about books is they help expose readers to new people and ideas. Even if you have an already enlightened and progressive book club, which I do, reading If I Was Your Girl, can stimulate a meaningful conversation. I know after I read and discussed it, I felt I’d grown from the experience.
If you want to open minds to romance…
Romance is the most popular genre of novels. Not “one of the,” but “the.” It makes up 40% of Amazon e-book sales and people spend $1.44 billion yearly reading the steamy tomes. With all that said, I’m guessing it is not a genre commonly chosen for book clubs. Perhaps it’s the stigma of romance, a genre to be read, secretly, in bed at night and you never admit to it! (Shhhhhh!!!) When the Nightlighters’ read Outlander, I realized there was more to romance novels than just bodice-ripping and throbbing loins. So perhaps it’s time to take romance out of the bedroom and make it a group thing. (I know where your mind just went. I didn’t mean it that way! 😉 )
If you want to do something daring…
The most daring choice for the Nightlighters Book Club, in my opinion, was a children’s picture book called Where Do They Go? The book covers a pretty heady topic: death and how to discuss death with children (not just in a religious, they all go to heaven way). The topic alone stimulated thoughtful conversations. In addition, a picture book allowed the group to expand beyond words and discuss the impact of artwork in both life and literature.
If you want a darker read…
There are no shortage of books if your goal is to discuss a dark premise. But one of my favorites from the Nightlighter Book Club list was The Girls. The book tells a fictionalized Manson Murders-like tale from the perspective of a girl who joins a cult-ish group. The story is both well-written and very provocative. Be ready to deal with some difficult topics, which may require a little childhood soul-searching. If your book club can handle it, it’s a great option.
If you want a lighthearted read that still stimulates conversation…
Sometimes the Nightlighter Book Club choices resonate for years. We read Where’d You Go Bernadette as one of our earlier books and it’s still influencing fashion choices of the people in my book club years later (hint: the fashion choices are vest-related). This quirky read provided an avenue to explore equally quirky topics. Every book club needs to read books like this because, like everything, a book club should be about variety. Disturbing books about girls in cults require balance with more humorous approaches to delving into the human psyche. If that is your book club goal, Bernadette is a great choice.
Anyone else have some good book club recommendations?
September 19, 2018 at 12:49 pm
Amazeballs post! Some good ones and some I didn’t like in there! Lol. I will forward to my friend whose book club is looking for some new choices.
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September 19, 2018 at 12:55 pm
If everyone loved all the books I think we’d have a super boring book club! 🙂 (Or at least not a very honest one.)
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September 19, 2018 at 5:35 pm
True. One of the things I’ve always loved about a book club (since my first one in 1998) is the introduction to books I would never have read otherwise. The joys of sharing reading with friends is unmatched for me! 📚
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September 19, 2018 at 1:35 pm
OMG! I love frozen grapes!!! (Sorry, had to reply to that part first.)
I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school, and you’re right: it prompted some great discussions. (I’m not sure I was ready for those discussions in the 10th grade when we read it, but there you go.)
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September 19, 2018 at 1:58 pm
I’m so addicted to frozen grapes! I just got the cotton candy grapes (have you had those before?) and they are sooo good frozen.
MA definitely doesn’t hold back on those more difficult topics. I could understand why it would be an awkward conversation in 10th grade, though. But it’s kind of great that your English teacher pushed those boundaries.
September 20, 2018 at 1:10 pm
I don’t know if I’ve had that variety before… I’ll have to look for it next time I’m in the store.
I did appreciate that my English teacher was pushing boundaries, but he was still a young teacher and I don’t think he really knew how to manage the class in some respects. We had good discussions, but it often felt like we went beyond what he had anticipated (or, sometimes, was able to handle). We were an AP class, so we pushed our intellectual boundaries, too.
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September 19, 2018 at 3:42 pm
We had a book club at work once which most descended quiet fast into a reason to go out after work and eat and drink 😦 If I Was Your Girl and Bernadette are great picks and I really want the read The Girls everyone keeps talking about how thought-provoking it is. I think Circe and Evelyn Hugo would be great for book clubs. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle might be a good mystery to and the end leaves a lot to discuss!
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September 19, 2018 at 4:46 pm
I can see how that could happen with a work book club in particular… Bad day? Eh we can talk about the book later, let’s go get some food and beer. 😉
Those are great recommendations and actually someone in my book club has told everyone not to read Circe because she wants to pick it when her time comes up. So I want to read it but I have to wait! If I read it too early I’ll forget everything. Thanks for the other recommendations. I’m going to come back to this post the next time I have to pick a book! 🙂