I've been in the same book club for nearly 20 years. Two of us have been in the group since the beginning; the other faces come and go. Book club is one of the most important things in my life. For most, it's not a big thing; we meet monthly to eat treats and discuss a book. But it is a big thing for me. This group of friends and my commitment to reading a book each month has kept me going through some difficult days in recent years. Even when I couldn't manage to read the book, I never missed a meeting.
We choose our reading list once a year. Each member brings 2-3 books to recommend to the group, and then we vote. The top 11 books get coveted spots on the reading list. The person who recommended the book leads the discussion, and we always talk about the book.
While only 11 books can make it to the calendar, the full list contains all the recommendations shared, making it a fabulous resource for finding something to read. In fact, people who have moved away request to stay on the emails to get the list of books. If you can attend, great, but no one has perfect attendance. If you've read the book, great, but it's not mandatory. It's loose and casual, and it's what works for us.
After 20 years of book club meetings, I have learned that not all books lend themselves to a good discussion. Some books are wonderful and fun to read but offer little traction for conversation. Some of the most passionate and engaging discussions we've had involved books we didn't like that much.
I've combed through the records of my book club and found ten books that sparked the best book club meetings. Again, these aren't necessarily our favorite books, but they are the ones we had strong feelings about and gave us a ton to discuss.
Rather than offer a synopsis of each, I will give you a glimpse of the questions and ideas that got our group going. They're sure to get your group talking as well.
The term ‘angle of repose' refers to the angle of a slope where debris will stop rolling downhill and settle. Think of a landslide; the angle of repose is the spot where the rocks stop sliding and rest. This novel has a lot of upheavals, including the uncertainty of settling in the West, the perilous 1960s, and challenging family relationships.
Our group enjoyed discussing how and when the characters in the book reached their own angles of repose and what our personal “angles of repose' might look like in the chaos of our lives.
This book is a quick read. It's the story of two elderly women left behind by their Alaskan tribe. The tribe decided the women were too much of a liability to bring along, but the women -- one 75 and the other 80 -- didn't give up.
Can people be a liability? Is sacrificing one to save many ever okay? What makes a survivor? Those were just a few of the many questions inspired by this enchanting legend.
Sisters Vianne and Isabelle have very different responses to surviving the Nazi invasion of France; one seemingly appeases her captors, and the other resists. This wonderful story offers so much to chew on.
What does it mean to appease or resist? Which approach would you take? Is one right and the other wrong? What would provoke us to risk our lives?
Wow. This book was full of big ideas. First, the story is mind-boggling, and Ms. Skloot did a wonderful job telling it. Her research and writing were exceptional. Real life is always more amazing than fiction; you can't make this stuff up.
But beyond the story itself were the important issues it raised surrounding health care, medical research, medical ethics, justice, and many others.
This book is a historical fiction account of a real-life ship that sank off the Atlantic Coast in the mid-1800s. The story moves between today and the past as a museum curator tries to uncover the actual events and what happened to one particular passenger.
Our book club enjoyed talking about family and the passengers' choices during and after the tragedy. As we're all dealing with trauma of one kind or another, we found a lot to talk about in this story.
Our group in general didn't necessarily care for this book. But man, did we talk about it. We talked about historical fiction and the idea of putting a character with modern ideas into a historical setting.
We discussed the plague (this book is about one town's response to Black Death) and whether we agreed with the town's response. We had this meeting before Covid, so our opinions and thoughts about that subject may have changed considerably in light of personal experience.
We talked about medicine, women's roles, gossip, and the pervasive idea that bad things in life are punishments for mistakes. Oof. This book club meeting was fired up.
Demick is a journalist and spent years collecting and researching stories about individuals who defected from North Korea. This book contained information and history about North Korea that most of our members did not know, so we enjoyed talking about what we had learned.
But we also loved the people we met in the stories; their choices and situations gave us much to think about and discuss.
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,' a sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet graces a statue on the fictional island of Nollop. When letters mysteriously start dropping off, the town council decides it's a sign the letters should be banned. The author also stops using the letters, which makes this, unlike any book you've ever read.
The themes of totalitarianism and freedom gave us plenty to discuss, but so did the idea of constraint. The author put considerable restraints on himself in writing this story there were letters he could not use, and the result was something masterfully creative. So, we asked: does true creativity require constraint?
Though not always easy to read, this remarkable book was brilliant. The author's bio alone made for a fascinating conversation, but so did other topics addressed in the book, such as Africa, medicine, family, loss, healing, and many others.
Cutting for Stone was Dr. Verghese's first book, so it's also worth talking about debut novels and what makes some better than others.
While you might think this is a book about Olympic athletes, if that's the only story you take away, you're missing -- well, you're missing the boat.
This book has tons of history and life lessons about hard work, family, resilience, and even luck. We especially loved the metaphor about the crew team needing to pull together to have “swing.' This idea is rich with implications for all kinds of personal relationships.
What Makes a Book “Discussable'?
What makes a great book club book? Our answers may vary, but most groups want books that are not too long, not too complicated, have readable language, and involve topics and themes that make readers think and that are relatable. These ten books check all these boxes, plus many more. To see more Book Club tips and advice, see this
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