Today’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish, is Top Ten Books Every Reader of X Should Read. I immediately thought, why not make a list of sure-fire hits for a book club? And by “hits” I don’t necessarily mean everyone will like them. I mean they’ll be sure to draw out a good discussion. Sometimes it’s the two-or-three-star books that elicit the strongest critical responses. That’s what we want for our book club meetings, right? I mean, besides good snacks and maybe a mimosa?
So here are ten books that have produced great discussions in my own book group, and their corresponding Goodreads blurb.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. My one word review: HARROWING. “In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.”
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Lots of fun pop culture references in this, plus serious subject matter on race and gender roles. “In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.”
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Whether or not you’re in a book club, you need to read this. “In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s just magical. And kinda scary. ” A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.”
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adele Waldman. A book I mightily resisted reading, turned out to be one of our best discussions ever. “Novelist Adelle Waldman plunges into the psyche of a flawed, sometimes infuriating modern man–one who thinks of himself as beyond superficial judgment, yet constantly struggles with his own status anxiety, who is drawn to women, yet has a habit of letting them down in ways that may just make him an emblem of our times. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is a tale of one young man’s search for happiness–and an inside look at how he really thinks about women, sex and love.”
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Yeah, I hated this book. I couldn’t get past the first 120 pages or so. But we had a really lively discussion about it, so there ya go. I feel like the full Goodreads blurb gives away too much, so here’s a selection. “Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.”
Tenth of December by George Saunders. One of my favorite short story collections ever. I like short story collections for book group because even the laziest and/or busiest member can read at least one story and talk about it. “The title story is a moving account of the intersection, at a frozen lake in the woods, of a young misfit and a middle-aged cancer patient who goes there to commit suicide, only to end up saving the boy’s life.
“Home” is the often funny, often poignant account of a soldier returning from the war.
“Victory Lap” is a taut, inventive story about the attempted abduction of a teenage girl.”
The Dinner by Hermann Koch. My book group discussion made me likes this a wee tiny bit more than I did on my own. This one is guaranteed to elicit strong opinions. “A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened…”
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Unlikeable college kids do awful things! Freaking great book and great discussion. “Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.”
Billy Lynn’s Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain. At times the satire was a bit too broad for my taste, but this exploration of an Iraq war vet’s engagement with people at home while on leave offers much to discuss. “Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk is a razor-sharp satire set in Texas during America’s war in Iraq. It explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad.”
Have you been or are you currently a member of a book group that enjoyed a lively discussion of a certain title? Even if the answer is no, please give me some suggestions for books (fiction AND nonfiction) that you think my book group should consider.