Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Book Club Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, we’re talking about the best books for your book club. What makes a good book club pick? I think it’s a book that promotes lively discussion. The writing style may be unusual or challenging. The characters (or author) may make controversial choices. Or maybe the book is educational. Here are ten books that will give your book club something to chat about.

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Best Book Club Books


1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: You’ll learn the history of Afghanistan, but you’ll never feel like you’re being educated. It’s a quick, engaging read with memorable characters.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: One of my favorite books ever. It’s a book about books! It has loveable characters, an unusual writing style, and the most bizarre narrator ever.

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: The twists and the complicated characters will give you a lot to talk about. It will also make you question the role the media plays in high-profile murder cases. How much does anybody know about those couples on Dateline and 20/20?

4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: It’s a composite novel (linked short stories), so the structure is unusual. When I discussed this book with my book club, I was surprised at people’s reactions to the characters. I thought Olive was complex and compelling. Some of my friends hated her.

5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: If you’ve always wanted to read this classic, I recommend doing it with a book club. The writing style is challenging, and the plot grapples with some of society’s biggest problems. It’s helpful to have a group so you can talk through the confusing parts.


6. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

In 1964, Daniel Ellsberg was one of the Pentagon insiders helping to plan a war in Vietnam. The mountainous Asian country had long been a clandestine front in America's Cold War with the Soviet Union. The U.S. Government would do anything to stop the spread of communism—with or without the consent of the American people.

But as the fighting in Vietnam escalated, Ellsberg turned against the war. He had access to a top-secret government report known as the Pentagon Papers and knew it could blow the lid off of years of government lies. But did he have the right to expose decades of presidential secrets? And could one man, alone, face the wrath of the government?

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: Don’t be put off by the serious dude on the cover. This book will educate you without boring you. It reads like a fictional thriller, but it’s real history. You’ll wonder what you would have done in these people’s shoes.

7. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

What should we have for dinner? For omnivores like ourselves, this simple question has always posed a dilemma: When you can eat just about anything nature (or the supermarket) has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the foods on offer might shorten your life. Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. The omnivore's dilemma has returned with a vengeance, as the cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous food landscape. What's at stake in our eating choices is not only our own and our children's health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: This book was a massive hit with my college book club. It changed the way the whole club thought about food and the environment. If I had to make a list of books that changed my life, this one would be on it. It’s educational without being preachy.

8. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism—the role it plays in evolution as well as human history—is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we've come to accept as fact.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: Okay, your book club may need a strong stomach for this one, but I guarantee it’s worth reading. The author is a zoologist who looks at cannibalism from a scientific point-of-view. The writing style is lively and funny. You’ll learn about animals, evolution, and human history.

9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: Of course I have to recommend my favorite nonfiction book ever. If you’re looking for classic nonfiction, you have to read this one. Even though it’s old, it’s very readable. You’ll feel something for all of the people involved. Also, it’s the grandfather of modern nonfiction. If you enjoy narrative nonfiction today, you might have this book to thank.

10. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

Why it’s perfect for book clubs: You’ll learn about Everest and human behavior while being both fascinated and terrified. The author is very honest about the disaster and his role in it.

Have you ever been in a book club? Which books prompted the best discussions for your group?


  1. Ahh, Into Thin Air - loved that book! So terrifying. But yeah, it would be interesting to discuss the role each person played.

  2. Gone Girl was such a mind-F**k. Usually, I am all about loving the characters in a book, but there were only horrible people in this book, and I still couldn't put it down. There is something to be said for an engrossing plot.

  3. Yes to The Kite Runner, The Book Thief (both made me cry!) and Into Thin Air!

  4. Olive Kittenridge sounds really interesting. I'll see if my library has a copy of it!

    My TTT .

  5. I love how you provide a diverse selection of books for book clubs and how you share some topics book clubs can use to initiate discussion. My book club has enjoyed Legacies by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett.

  6. Great list! I really want to give Cannibalism and In Cold Blood a try - I've heard such good things about them both - and I agree that The Book Thief is the perfect book club book. =)

  7. These all do make good club picks. My club also like reading Tarryn Fisher books.

  8. Great list. I agree! I worked at a library for 5 years and lot of these were frequent book club picks!

    My TTT!

  9. I read Gone Girl for a book club and it was a perfect book club book. Everyone had a different opinion and no one was going to give up on theirs!

  10. I have to read more nonfiction; thanks for the recommendations!

  11. Love Olive Kitteridge. I wonder why we've never read that for book club....

  12. I have unfortunately never been in a book club, but I have always wanted to be. I love the idea of everyone reading a book and then coming together to discuss it, and from what I can tell, you have picked some really great books for that. I know reading Gone Girl with a group would have made my experience so much better - I wanted to discuss it so badly after finishing it.
    I’m also finding myself weirdly wanting to read Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History after what you’ve said about it, despite the fact that I am repulsed by the subject.
    - Sabrina @ Wordy and Whimsical

  13. I've heard from so many people how good the Book Thief is! And Gone Girl was a trip. I just read that one a few months ago- finally!

  14. My book club does something different -- there's a theme chosen every month and we can talk about any book, as long as it's in line with the theme. I find I like that more -- it lets me keep to reading my genres, and doesn't make me have to read a book I wouldn't enjoy. And, it makes me think about my chosen books differently too. I was looking through a couple of true crime books lists awhile back and came across In Cold Blood -- it's sounds so good!

  15. I haven't read any of these, but they seem to be more my husband's style. :)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

  16. Great list! I read The Book Thief for a book club a few years ago and it made for a great discussion.

  17. I'm in a men's book club and we mostly read history (and an occasional historical fiction to satisfy a few members). I've read a lot of these. Into Thin Air had me breathing heavy as I was reading about the events on the mountain--only a few books have done that--another was "Johnny Got His Gun," a novel from the 1930s about WW I. As the soldier is alive but totally paralyzed, I found myself having to walk around while reading it. I've also read "In Cold Blood," "The Kite Runner" and "A Clockwork Orange" (which one needs to learn a new language to read).


  18. Great list! I loved Gone Girl and read it at the same time as my boyfriend, so we had a small book club with just the two of us ;) It really is a book that should be discussed while reading!

  19. Okay, confession: When I see "book club books" I think "boring books." I know, it's terrible, but I just generally don't get excited about the types of books that are heralded as good books for book clubs. Sad but true.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  20. Love all the nonfiction on your list. I think it works well with bookclubs--I remember reading "Nickled and Dimed" and that one about cholera in London with a book club I was in years ago.