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.

dark matter

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?

vampires in the lemon grove

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.

I know why the caged bird

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.

all the ugly and wonderful things.jpg

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. 

leaving before the rains come

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 i was your girl 1

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.

where do they go.jpg

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.

the girls

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.

where'd you go burnadette

Anyone else have some good book club recommendations?