A few years ago, I had no desire to be part of a book club. Even though I love reading, I never wanted to feel obligated to read a certain book. (Earning my English degree might have something to do with that.) But when the opportunity arose to get involved in one of my school’s book clubs, I found myself surprisingly excited about it. Now the book club I’m in is one of my favorite things. I look forward to each meeting and have grown to love discussing all kinds of different books with my fellow readers.
If you’re in a book club, you know choosing a book for a group can sometimes be challenging. Today I’m sharing 30 titles that I think would make fantastic book club picks; 20 are fiction and 10 are nonfiction. I think this list has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a book to discuss with your club or simply want something to enjoy on your own.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Summary: Separated by respective ambitions after falling in love in occupied Nigeria, beautiful Ifemelu experiences triumph and defeat in America while exploring new concepts of race, while Obinze endures an undocumented status in London until the pair is reunited in their homeland 15 years later, where they face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Why I chose this book: Americanah raises important questions about race and belonging, but it’s also a beautiful love story at its core. Adichie’s writing is wonderful.
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
Summary: When the cast of a local theater group raises money for an experimental treatment for the director’s granddaughter, who has a rare form of cancer, one member raises her concerns, creating tensions within the community, which leads to murder.
Why I chose this book: This is an epistolary novel written in emails, text messages, and notes. It’s a fun page-turner and keeps readers guessing. The large cast of characters will make for a great conversation.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Summary: In a rural East Texas town of fewer than 200 people, the body of an African American lawyer from Chicago is found in a bayou, followed several days later by that of a local white woman. What’s going on? African American Texas Ranger Darren Mathews hopes to find out, which means talking to relatives of the deceased, including the woman’s white supremacist husband — and Mathews soon discovers things are more complex than they seem.
Why I chose this book: I love a good mystery novel, and this book delivers an unputdownable story featuring a vibrant protagonist.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Summary: A five-decade saga tracing the impact of an act of infidelity on the parents and children of two Southern California families traces their shared summers in Virginia and the disillusionment that shapes their lasting bond.
Why I chose this book: Commonwealth is engrossing from beginning to end. We can all relate to complex families and how they hold each other’s secrets.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Summary: It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless―unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Why I chose this book: IT’S SO GOOD, THAT’S WHY! Crossroads is long, so this book is only for the most dedicated book clubbers, but Franzen has given us so much great stuff to discuss thanks to the oh-so-complicated Hildebrandt family.
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Summary: Newly involved in his daughter’s life shortly after she suffered a breakdown, Lucas takes the teen on a trip to Europe in the hopes that an immersion in regional history and culture will help her forget his past mistakes and her uncertain future.
Why I chose this book: Dear Fang, With Love is an underrated gem. It’s sweet, surprising, and the European setting gives readers a nice sense of escapism.
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
Summary: A work of fiction goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans, and America as a whole.
Why I chose this book: This novel addresses important and heavy themes, but it’s Jason Mott’s use of magical realism that makes this novel a memorable must-read.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Summary: Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.
Why I chose this book: Homegoing is one of the most important books written in recent years. It’s incredible how much story and characterization Yaa Gyasi fit into 320 pages. The fact that this is a debut novel continually blows my mind.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Summary: A woman must reckon with her past when new details surface about a tragedy at her elite New England boarding school.
Why I chose this book: The best book club books are page-turners that also have a lot of important themes to discuss. The mystery at the heart of I Have Some Questions for You will keep readers turning the pages, and themes of class, justice, and homecoming will keep any book club talking.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Summary: When a pregnant Tish’s boyfriend Fonny, a sculptor, is wrongfully jailed for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, their families unite to prove the charge false.
Why I chose this book: Baldwin is a genius whose skill is on full display in this classic. Though it was published in 1974, Beale Street’s look at the American justice system is as important as ever.
In the Woods by Tana French
Summary: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.
Why I chose this book: In the Woods is the mystery novel to which I compare all others. The writing, characters, and moody setting are utter perfection.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Summary: Waiting to be chosen by a customer, an Artificial Friend programmed with high perception observes the activities of shoppers while exploring fundamental questions about what it means to love.
Why I chose this book: Even the sci-fi haters will like this thought-provoking story about a future that seems all too possible.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Summary: Four famous siblings throw an epic end-of-summer party that goes dangerously out of control as secrets and loves that shaped this family’s generations come to light, changing their lives forever.
Why I chose this book: Malibu Rising looks like a breezy beach read if you judge it by the cover, but Taylor Jenkins Reid delivers a powerful story about a family whose famous father left tragedy in his wake. I read this in one sitting.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Summary: Astonished to see the mother who abandoned him in childhood throwing rocks at a presidential candidate, a bored college professor struggles to reconcile the radical media depictions of his mother with his small-town memories and decides to draw her out by penning a tell-all biography.
Why I chose this book: This book got a bit of buzz when it came out in 2016, but it’s my literary mission to keep The Nix alive and well. There’s a lot happening in this book, but it’s the complicated mother/son story that anchors the narrative.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Summary: This powerfully imagined tour de force of fiction of what-might-have-been follows Hillary Rodham as she takes a different path, blazing her own trail – one that unfolds in public as well as in private – and one that crosses paths again and again with Bill Clinton.
Why I chose this book: Who hasn’t wondered what their life would be like if they’d made different choices? There’s so much to talk about throughout Sittenfeld’s reimagining of Hillary’s destiny.
Sam by Allegra Goodman
Summary: Grappling with self-doubt and insecurity as she grows into her teens, Sam, yearning for her climbing coach’s attention, dealing with her father’s absence and raging against her mother’s constant pressure, must decide who she wants to be in the face of what she’s expected to do.
Why I chose this book: Have you ever finished a book and knew you’d be thinking about it for a long time? That’s exactly how I felt when I finished reading Sam. I love this moving coming-of-age story.
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
Summary: After she discovers that her husband has been reading her diary, Irene America turns it into a manipulative farce, while secretly keeping a second diary that includes her true thoughts, through which the reader learns of Irene’s shaky marriage, its affect on her children and her struggles with alcohol.
Why I chose this book: Shadow Tag isn’t one of Erdrich’s most popular novels, but it’s one of my favorites. Readers who love stories about messy marriages will like this one.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Summary: A story of how the past affects the present, and of deeply entrenched racism, Sing, Unburied, Sing describes the life of a biracial boy, his addicted, grieving black mother, and his incarcerated white father. A road trip to Dad’s prison kick-starts the novel, which offers deeply affecting characters, a strong sense of place (rural Mississippi), and a touch of magical realism in appearances by the dead.
Why I chose this book: Jesmyn Ward is an incredibly talented writer whose gift shines in this novel. The prose is beautiful, the story is heart wrenching, and familial love pierces through the bleakness of the subject matter to infuse the story with hope.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Summary: Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
Why I chose this book: Despite its themes, this novel really is a fun read. Plus, it provides an interesting look at influencer culture, which I find endlessly interesting.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Summary: Her world upended by the death of a beloved artist uncle who was the only person who understood her, fourteen-year-old June is mailed a teapot by her uncle’s grieving boyfriend, with whom June forges a poignant relationship.
Why I chose this book: This book came out in 2012, and I always thought it deserved more buzz. It’s a deeply emotional novel about grief and the relationships that sustain us.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Summary: The editor-in-chief of Gourmet recounts her visits to some of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, both as herself and as an anonymous diner in disguise, to offer insight into the differences in her dining experiences.
Why I chose this book: Few things unite people as much as food. This memoir is a quick, delightful read that any foodie will adore. Have snacks on hand.
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
Summary: A humorist and playwright provides a heartfelt and humorous memoir-in-essays about growing up seeing the world differently, finding unexpected hope and every awkward, extraordinary stumble along the way.
Why I chose this book: This is the perfect book if you need some good laughs but also love stories with a lot of heart. Here for It is one of those books that I think most readers will enjoy.
Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-Seven Women Untangle an Obsession
edited by Elizabeth Benedict
Summary: These twenty-seven “hair pieces” offer up reflections and revelations about family, race, religion, ritual, culture, motherhood, politics, celebrity, what goes on in African American kitchens and at Hindu Bengali weddings, alongside stories about the influence of Jackie Kennedy, Lena Horne, Farrah Fawcett, and the Grateful Dead. Layered into these essays you’ll find surprises, insights, hilarity, and the resonance of common experience.
Why I chose this book: Hair is a big deal, but we don’t often talk about why. This essay collection is funny, illuminating, and will start great conversations about female beauty standards.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Summary: Why I chose this book: An award-winning poet and essayist offers a ruthlessly honest, emotionally charged exploration of the psychological condition of being Asian American.
Why I chose this book: I read Minor Feelings two years ago, and I’m still thinking about it. Essay collections can make excellent book club picks because there’s sure to be at least one piece with which each reader will connect.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Summary: Hemingway’s memories of his life as an unknown writer living in Paris in the twenties are deeply personal, warmly affectionate, and full of wit. Looking back not only at his own much younger self, but also at the other writers who shared Paris with him – James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – he recalls the time when, poor, happy, and writing in cafes, he discovered his vocation. Written during the last years of Hemingway’s life, his memoir is a lively and powerful reflection of his genius that scintillates with the romance of the city. –Goodreads
Why I chose this book: Classics might not be a book club’s first choice, but there’s something special about reading and discussing a work from the past, especially when it takes place in Paris. Hardcore book nerds will love the literary elements of this memoir.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Summary: Demonstrates how introverted people are misunderstood and undervalued in modern culture, charting the rise of extrovert ideology while sharing anecdotal examples of how to use introvert talents to adapt to various situations.
Why I chose this book: As an introvert, this book made me feel seen. Extroverts will benefit from better understanding the quiet folks in their lives and learning why they behave the way they do.
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
Summary: An intimate account of White House life from the perspectives of the service staffs of the Kennedys through the Obamas details their friendships, marriages, everyday activities and elaborate state dinners.
Why I chose this book: I love presidential history, but even if you don’t, I think you’ll find this book to be an entertaining read. We’re all familiar with images of the White House, and this account gives readers behind-the-scenes access to the chefs, florists, gardeners, and other important people who make life and events possible for the President and their family.
The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose
Summary: Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in aneffort to do just that. Hoping to explore the “real ground of literature,” she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction, from LEQ to LES. The shelf has everything Rose could wish for–a classic she has not read, a remarkable variety of authors, and a range of literary styles. In The Shelf, Rose investigates the books on her shelf with exuberance, candor, and wit while pondering the many questions her experiment raises and measuring her discoveries against her own inner shelf–those texts that accompany us through life.
Why I chose this book: If you’re in a book club, you probably love books. And if you love books, you’re likely to enjoy reading books about other books. I adored this fun literary adventure and think most book lovers will too.
Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In
by Phuc Tran
Summary: In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.
Why I chose this book: This memoir is such a joy, especially for book and music lovers. It’s funny, insightful, and will give any book club much to discuss.
Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us by Rachel Aviv
Summary: Raising fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress, the author draws on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs to write about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are.
Why I chose this book: A lot of books on this list are lighthearted; this one definitely isn’t, but it’s a great and important look at mental illness. This book would be wonderful to discuss in a group of thoughtful readers.
Most summaries came from NoveList.
Have you read many of these? What titles would you suggest for a book club?