August 27, 2015

25 Picks for Book Clubs

Well, after my post on Monday about starting a book club, I think it's obvious you should all move to my neighborhood and we can have a killer book group (complete with excellent desserts, of course).

If moving to Arizona isn't in the cards for you, I'll just recommend some books for your own book club to read. These 25 are interesting, well-written, and lend themselves to great discussions.

Wondering what books are worth picking for a book club? These 25 are all sure to spark lively discussion!

  1. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell. This was the first book I read with my Texas bookclub and it was a fantastic start - this book has so much to talk about and plenty of interesting connections between each of the short articles. (full review here
  2. Wait 'til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I've read this book several times and with each re-read, I love it a little more. Goodwin is a noted historian but this is her memoir about growing up as a baseball lover in New York. Wonderful no matter how you feel about sports, it deals a lot with the major shifts in society during her childhood, from an idyllic suburb home to increasing divorce, transient families, and dwindling sense of community. 
  3. Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This middle-grade historical fiction title is so well-done, I can hardly stand it. Told from the perspective of Sally Hemming's slave children, growing up on Thomas Jefferson's plantation, knowing their father is the white master. Brilliant and thought-provoking. (full review here).
  4. Nutureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. If you're starting a new book club, I think this is a perfect book to kick off plenty of lively conversation. I loved the amazing discussion about sleep, racism, praising children, and a whole slew of other parenting topics (full review here). 
  5. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. I was not excited about this choice, but it ended up being one of the most interesting of the books we read in 2012. It's about 600 pages long, but it reads almost as quickly as a novel. It tracks the migration of black Americans from the South to the North and West during the 40-70s and their experiences assimilating into new cultures (and the lives they left behind in the South). Fascinating. 
  6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I think with book lovers, you often get a good handful of introverts, so this always makes for a interesting discussion. (full review here
  7. Red China Blues by Jan Wong. In college, I read this memoir about a Canadian girl (of Chinese descent) who goes over to China during the Cultural Revolution, on fire with Mao's vision. During the years she spends there, she comes to realize that Mao's ideas for China might not be all that she's hoped. This book is absolutely fascinating - I even sent my mom a copy for her birthday a couple of years ago (she loved it too). 
  8. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This YA historical fiction book takes place during WWII and if you feel like you're totally tired of WWII books, this one will still feel fresh and completely gripping. (full review here)
  9. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. One of my favorite Newbery winners in recent years, this story is told by two different voices - a young girl during the Great Depression and a young boy just before WWI breaks out. (full review here
  10. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. Only my favorite book ever. My mom picked this for her bookclub and many of the women in her group liked it so much they read the companion book, Okay for Now, before their group even met (full review here
  11. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. About China's increasing dominance in the financial and educational world, while America struggles to keep up. This was a fun book to read in an election year and so interesting I read huge passages of it outloud to Bart. You'll want to have a relatively calm group, though, because I could imagine discussion getting a little heated if you have people who are extremely polar on either side of the political aisle (I found the book itself to be very even-handed).
  12. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. If you want something that's a fairly quick, fun read, but still has enough heft to make for a good discussion, this story about secrets in families is hard to beat (full review here). 
  13. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. If you think a book about growing old and dying is going to be a downer, you're underestimating Atul Gawande. If I was picking a book club book this year, it would be this one (full review here). 
  14. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. Just a warning that, if you read this book, you will not be able to stop telling everyone you know about this. It's juvenile non-fiction, but it's probably some of the best non-fiction you've ever read (full review here).
  15. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. If you haven't read this modern classic, it'd be a great pick for a book club with so many interesting themes about culture, marriage, family, and money. 
  16. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin. I find habits endlessly interesting and I'm also a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin. So obviously this book really appealed to me - it's fantastic and there's so much you could discuss here (full review here).
  17. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. I've found that the book groups I've belonged to always care deeply about education, whether it's as a homeschool parent, a parent with a struggling child, or a teacher or professor. This book, about the differences between public school systems in four different countries, is so engaging and interesting. My mom and my sister both picked this for their book clubs this year (full review here).  
  18. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I definitely don't agree with her on all counts, but it is so interesting to think about the way you spend your time and what you value. Also, I'd love it if everyone came to book club with a completed list of 100 Dreams and shared some of theirs (full review here).
  19. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Sometimes it's fun to read a book and then watch the movie version as a group. I haven't seen the film yet, but I was totally captivated by this story of a Harvard professor dealing with Early-onset Alzheimer's (full review here). 
  20. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. I don't have any interest in opening a restaurant, but this story about a couple that did just that - with full enthusiasm on the husband's part and deep reluctance on the wife's - is just superb. You'll probably need to serve pizza with this book (full review here). 
  21. First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo. If you're an American History buff, chances are this book will be deeply interesting to you. I read this when I had the flu my freshman year of college. If you're not on death's doorstep, you'll probably like it even more. 
  22. American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food by Jonathan Bloom. My book club in Texas read a lot of food books, and I wish we'd read this one - waste is such a huge part of the story of modern food, and the discussion would have been amazing. 
  23. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This futuristic sci-fi book about a young clone won the National Book Award and its a fun read with enough topics to keep you chatting all night long (full review here). 
  24. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. If you're into food books or healthy eating, this book is so so fascinating. I sort of want to set up a huge table of processed foods to eat while discussing this book - would that be wrong? (full review here
  25. The Chosen by Chaim Potok. My mom suggested I read this when I was trying to pick a book off a list my sophomore year in high school and I was mega dubious. And then I LOVED it. I think I need to read this book about families, faith and friendship again. 
What have been your favorite book club reads? 


  1. This year my book group has had a couple of months where you could read a couple of different books. One month we each chose one of the Love Languages books, and that was an interesting discussion. I think everyone chose either the original or the one that pertains to children. It was an interesting discussion because it allowed people to be more personal about their relationships without it becoming a full-on therapy session.

    Another month we read both Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bebe. Most only read one or the other, but it was still interesting to discuss different parenting philosophies and where we all stand.

    We've read a few that are on your list, but most of the ones on your list that I've read are ones I read on my own.

    One of my goals when I help choose the books for the year is to get more non-fiction into the rotation, and I've been successful at doing that. This makes me incredibly pleased with myself.

  2. A fun suggestion for a book club is to pick a theme. I'm in a book club (that's sadly coming to an end - it was started by the paper for the celebration of Nevada's 150th birthday) that read books written by Nevada authors about various parts of the state. The theme was not overt in that the club was not a love letter to the state, but was a fun little historical romp through the state. I learned a lot and discovered some things about the state I've called home since age 10.

  3. Janssen, I have been enjoying your fun, pragmatic work for years! Thank you; your blog is always a bright spot in my day! Many of the books you mention have provided a lot of fun commentary as well as The Dovekeepers, The Kitchenboy, The Red Tent, Shades of Gray, Wild Swans, and anything by Bill Bryson. I love how you have included snippets of your mom and sisters. I would love to hear some of their favorites. A literary family (as well as your own darling girls).

  4. These all sound perfect! French Kids Eat Everything would also be a really great discussion. We've sort of fell into giving our siblings a Seattle themed book for Christmas the last few years - Delancey, Where'd You Go Bernadette, The Boys in the Boat. It'd be fun to have a geographically themed book club for a shorter time frame (six months to a year).

  5. One of my favorite book club reads was years ago, LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory. It's still in my top 10.

  6. Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is super short and the writing is clever. The fact that it was 'written' using eye blinks and a transcriber makes it all the more fascinating. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua would also be at the top of my list. I also think Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food would make for great discussion. It's short and not overly drawn out or dense like many of the health food books are.

  7. i read still alice recently and loved it, and because i was on a flight i watched the movie immediately after. it was good, though i don't think kristen stewart played lydia very well (shocking, i know). code verity is on my list, i'm so glad to hear good things!

  8. I've never been in a book club, but am interested in starting one because of the opportunity to analyze and for the motivation to read it would give me. But I'm a very picky reader. I rarely (and I mean rarely) enjoy a fiction novel published within the last (minimum) 10 years, mainly because almost every modern author feels the need to use swear words and describe in unecessary detail sex or violence. Wondering what you do if you legitimately don't want to read the book selected at your book club. I can appreciate well-written novels even if I don't necessarily like them, but I also don't want to waste my time when I know the book is one I'm not going to enjoy reading because of language, violence, sex.

  9. Wait 'til next year! One of my very favorites. I am a diehard baseball person, but I do agree that you don't have to be a sports person to enjoy that one.

  10. My best book club ever had an annual poetry month where we all brought 1-3 of our favorite poems and shared them. We did this in the summer when everyone's kids were home from school and had less time to read.

  11. Being mortal is a required reading for this upcoming semester for NP school. I got in as an audio book and it's my first time listening to a book and I'm obsessed! Makes for my subway commute much faster! I wish my textbooks came in audiobook format!

  12. Being mortal is a required reading for this upcoming semester for NP school. I got in as an audio book and it's my first time listening to a book and I'm obsessed! Makes for my subway commute much faster! I wish my textbooks came in audiobook format!

  13. This might sound weird since you don't know me. But I actually also just moved to AZ and I would love to be in a book club with you. I don't comment often. But I have been reading your blog for at least three year. I found you blog through something my cousin Lindsay Cragun posted. I just finished grad school and I am anxious to read some great books that are not assigned. Also I don't know anyone in Arizona except my Aunt Meredith and Uncle Norm who are serving a mission here so I would love to meet more people.


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