My kids complain when it’s my night to host book club. They say we laugh too loudly. They say it “disturbs” them.
(They also asked me to leave the room when I was reading Furiously Happy because my laughter was “disturbing” them. Granted it was just me sitting there laughing, out loud, by myself, so admittedly that might be a little disturbing, but more in a is-my-mum-crazy? kind of way, and less a shh-I’m-trying-to-study kind of way.)
My husband likes to say that we don’t actually discuss the books at book club, that all we do is sit around and drink and laugh. He’s just jealous because he doesn’t have a book club, and if he did, he and his friends would probably read Dave Pelz’s Putting Bible and spend the evening discussing the minutiae of their golf stroke, which is no laughing matter.
Let’s just put that whole ‘book club is just for drinking and chit-chat’ chestnut to rest, because we have read some really great books over the years, and many of them have resulted in deep and sustained book talk, along with all the drinking and chit-chat.
Before I list the books that would make great book club books, maybe we should agree on the two most important “great book club book” parameters:
- The book has be a really great read. You don’t want to have to struggle through a book just for the sake of discussing it. That’s what high school English class was for.
- But there also has to be some substantial discussion matter in there too. Otherwise you just end up sitting around gushing about how much you loved the book, but with nothing more to say about it. (Case in point, I just finished reading Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and loved, loved, loved it, but I can’t see it sustaining any long and involved conversation. (But you should definitely read it…))
Now that we have the rules in place, below are some excellent book club reads.
A book about a girl who lives and dies multiple times, each time living a bit longer and making different choices, altering her life’s path. We read this book last year and universally loved it. Not only is it a fabulous story set in England before and during the Second World War, but the repetition concept is intriguing and the whole idea of starting over, of life hinging on the choices we make or the fate that finds us, made for great conversation.
I knew nothing about this book before starting, but I was completely wrapped up in the story of Rosemary and her sister Fern and the mysterious circumstances that Rosemary alludes to in the first third or so of the book. I’m so happy that no one spoiled it for me, so I won’t say much more in case you haven’t read it yet, but this book was a catalyst for endless conversation at book club.
We recently read this book, and everybody liked it, but with a few reservations, which makes for a great discussion because you have people on both sides of the love/hate divide. The Improbability of Love not only provides for a lively discussion about art world shenanigans and the nefarious deeds of the Nazis Art Squad in the Second World War, but there is also much to be said about the wide cast of characters, and one point of contention among us was the character of the painting itself. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling, but I’ll just say that I loved that part.
While we haven’t read the following three books for book club, I think they’d make excellent book club selections:
This book, about a marathon runner trying to avoid deportation while at the same time trying to win races to save enough money to rescue his sister, won the recent Canada Reads competition. There is so much to talk about with The Illegal: running and the business of international marathons, the status and plight of refugees and illegal immigrants, political corruption, ageism, racism, gender bias… all wrapped up in a terrific story filled with well-rounded characters. I highly recommend it.
11/22/63 is a long book. Thankfully it’s now out in paperback because the hardcover is heavy, and if you read it in bed and it slips and hits you in the face, you risk a broken nose. Just saying. Also, depending on how often your book club meets, and how fast your club members read, you might consider reading this over the summer and reconvening for a chat in September. However, don’t let the length deter you. This is an excellent book. It tells the story of a man who goes back in time to try to stop the assassination of JFK, and would prompt some great discussions, with topics ranging from the possibility of time travel, to what it would be like to have our modern sensibilities and live in another time period, to King’s concept of time being resistant to change.
I loved this book. A golem and jinni deal with who and what they are as they find themselves and each other in 1899 New York. Fairy tale, fantasy, legend and mythology, but also the philosophy of friendship and free will and belief and belonging. There is so much to talk about with this book, but also so much to love about it.
Need more books to read? Other standout books we’ve read for book club that made for great discussion include:
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Sisters: the saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell
- Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Have a good book club book to recommend? Let me know!