I’ve belonged to a couple book clubs, and loved them. I think the key to picking a good book is to find a novel with layers – not something you just breeze through in a sitting with a cuppa tea. It should stick with you, give you something to think about, have characters you can root for or against. A bit of controversy never hurt, either, but stick with fiction – unless you want real arguments. I also like reading something that had a connection to your geographical locale, which is admittedly easier to do if you’re reading in New York than Oklahoma.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving.
My book club did read this, and I’m so glad. I probably never would have picked it up otherwise. If I remember, pretty much everyone loved it, but there was still plenty to talk about. I hate when you get a book about which everyone says “This was great!,” and then…nothing. There is so much going on in this story that it is sure to lead to engaging conversations.
It’s a retelling of a classic, so people will be familiar with the general story. It’s a great book to take a character’s side – do you think Penelope’s full of it? Is Helen unfairly demonized? What’s really going on with the maids?
The Lifted Veil, George Eliot.
It’s short. Yay! And there’s a lot packed into this novella, so there’s still plenty to talk about. Plus, if people like this, maybe they’ll be willing to tackle Middlemarch the next time you suggest it. Which is, um, not short.
House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III.
The last book club I was in was a group of lawyers. We often picked books with a bit of a legal angle, but not anything too close to work. This would seem to fit that. It’s about a woman who loses her house because she ignores notices and tax bills, and what happens to her and the new family of recent immigrants who buys the house. I can imagine people having very strong reactions to this and being firmly on the side of one or the other characters.
Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, Assia Djebar.
I really wanted my book club to read this, but for some reason the others didn’t seem to be as fascinated with it as I was. I love the title, and it has to do with a girl growing up in Algeria, and there’s war and independence and the role of language. This is the only book on my list I haven’t actually read yet, which needs to change, asap.
The Taste of Salt, Martha Southgate.
Because it’s good. And you get to talk about race and addiction and family issues. See? Interesting conversations, I promise.
The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck.
Sometimes picking a classic means that more people show up. Either they’ve read it before, or it’s one of those books that they will read if they’re just given a bit of a push.
Morrison is intimidating, but this book is pretty straightforward and accessible. The are no Beloved type ghosts to confuse the heck out of everyone, but it’s still a wonderfully written, beautiful book. Plus, the friendship of two young girls is at its core. I know there’s plenty to talk about there.
The North of God, Steve Stern.
Again, this one is short but powerful. It has a lot of references to Jewish culture, so it helps if people have at least a working understanding of Judaism. Warning: it’s a bit of a downer.
House of Mirth, Edith Wharton.
Another classic, this time with an ambiguous ending, drug usage, plenty of scandal. Perfect.