Best Book Club Books

Ouf, what a week it’s been. I won’t go into it; suffice to say there was a lot of work and I am too pooped now to consider a lengthy or detailed post. However, I was hoping to enlist the wisdom and experience of the marvelous world of book bloggers in a little project. I’m trying to figure out which are the ‘best’ book club books, in the sense of being a) good to discuss b) interesting to a wide range of readers c) available and d) not too long. I’ve been compiling a list in categories, and would welcome any suggestions. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Family Stories

Justin Cartwright – The Promise of Happiness
Carol Shields – Unless
Jodi Picoult – My Sister’s Keeper
Joshua Henkin – Matrimony

Cultural and political stories

Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner
Ian McEwan – Saturday
Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book

Historical stories

Irene Nemirovsky – Suite Française
Isabel Allende – Daughter of Fortune
Diane Setterfield – The Thirteenth Tale

Classics

Henry James – The Aspern Papers
L. P. Hartley – The Go-Between
Graham Greene – The End of the Affair

Personal Histories

Arthur Golden – Memoirs of a Geisha
Lorna Sage – Bad Blood
Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love

In Translation

Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses
Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Of Love and Other Demons

Crime and Thrillers

Truman Capote – In Cold Blood
Jonathon Raban – Surveillance
Sue Miller – While I Was Gone

Novels of Ideas

Yann Martel – Life Of Pi
Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird
Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Love Stories

Zoe Heller – Notes on a Scandal
Anne Tyler – The Accidental Tourist
Bernhard Schlink – The Reader

About Education

Lloyd Jones – Mr Pip
Richard Russo – Straight Man
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I’d love to hear about books that went down really well with people’s book clubs.
Update: I have had so many good suggestions in the comments below, I’ve posted a new list here

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44 thoughts on “Best Book Club Books

  1. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns – probably under Love Stories. I cried my eyes out.
    Helter Skelter by Vince Bugliosi (the story of the Tate/LaBianca murders by the Manson Family cult.) Very chilling under Crime and Thrillers.
    Will have to go home and look at my bookshelf for more.
    Oh, the video! I had seen a part of it somewhere before…TV maybe…but never the whole thing. It is even funnier than I remembered. Anyway, I laughed and laughed. Thanks for the link.

  2. Oh my. I think (having just realized that over the last 20 years, I’ve belonged to six different book discussion groups) I’m going to have to do a whole blog post in answer to this. Do you mind?

  3. Several of the books you mention went over well with my book club: Never Let Me Go, My Sister’s Keeper, Eat, Pray, Love, and The Kite Runner all elicted good discussion (although opinions were mixed about the books themselves). Others that went over well were The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell, Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

  4. Montana 1948 is a great story, I guess it would be family or cultural/political.
    Of the ones here that I’ve read, all would be excellent discussion. Our book club enjoyed Rebecca and The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier.

  5. Well, the Jeannette Walls book went over really well with my group — no surprise! My mystery club has enjoyed Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key and Sayers’s Gaudy Night the most of all the books we’ve read.

  6. Lilian – Thank you! When I look over the list, I am surprised by how many I’ve yet to read. I must try to get through more!

    Grad – those are such interesting suggestions as I haven’t even heard of them. Thank you so much! I’ll go and look them up right now. And so glad you enjoyed the mom song. It has a mad magnificence, much like motherhood itself. :)

    Emily – would I mind? I’d love it! I’m trying hard not to hold my breath in anticipation. :)

    Teresa – that’s very helpful, thank you so much. I had thought of the O’Farrell but then wasn’t sure, and the other two aren’t books I know. I shall be doing something about that!

    Care – Those are more wonderful suggestions, thank you. Montana 1948 is new to me and a very evocative title. And Daphne du Maurier is also a very good idea.

    Dorothy – I had intended to add the Walls and then I forgot. But she really should be there, yes. And those are excellent crime suggestions. Thank you!

  7. At the moment I’m reading Allegra Goodman’s Kaaterskill Falls, which would fit nicely into your family category. When I was in a book group locally I suggested Oswald Wynd’s The Ginger Tree, which is a book I loved and should reread (actually have reread)–a historical novel. Another of my suggestions was Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton is a good novel (another favorite of mine). In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez for something political/cultural. David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars would probably fit into a number of categories and has been a big book club book it seems. Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Manil Suri’s The Death of Vishnu, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Ann Packer. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers for a classic. Okay, I won’t bombard you with any more. I’ve read all of these. Some were for my book club and others I read on my own. I think they all have meaty stories that would be good for discussion.

  8. Alma Alexander’s “The Secrets of Jin Shei” has gone down well with several book clubs of my acquaintance in the four or so years since it was published. Worth considering.

  9. Danielle – you are a complete star, thank you! That’s a fantastic list of titles with loads I need to check out. That’s wonderful. :)

    Robert – thank you so much. What I love about this is that I get recommendations for books that are also completely new to me. I’ll certainly check this out.

    Adrienne – I should have thought of the Haddon – that’s a really good idea, but I’ll be checking out both in any case. Thank you so much!

  10. Out of your list, my book group read Eat, Pray, Love, which we mostly hated, Saturday, which we mostly loved, Suite Francaise, which provoked a very interesting discussion, and Never Let Me Go, which we disagreed on, but also made for a lively discussion. I would love to discuss The End of the Affair with my book group–that’s a good suggestion. I think your list is great–the books seem fairly accessible, and a good mix. And by the way, I love “The Mom Song”, too!

  11. I’ve never belonged to a book group, can you believe it? I have a personal favorite in each of those categories, but have no idea whether it’s “group worthy” or not :) However, I must put in my plug for To Kill A Mockingbird, which in my estimation is the “great American novel.”

    Also, have to say I asbolutely adored that video! Gave me a much needed laugh, and I’m sending the link to all my friends who are moms!

  12. Bookwormzreader – thank you so much! Let me know if any go down well with your group.

    Gentle Reader – thank you for that information, that’s wonderful. I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love or Saturday, and I’d like to do both (something intrigues me so much about books that get very mixed receptions). Let me know if your club has any really good discussion-provoking reads over the next few months, and so glad you liked the song. It did make me laugh! :)

    Becca – Apart from the Slaves of Golconda, neither have I! There’s a book group at my son’s school that I could join, but I’m still hesitating. My niece has recently read To Kill A Mockingbird in school and she loved it! And so glad you enjoyed the Mom Song – unbelievably, it was posted as a link on the chat site of my son’s World of Warcraft guild. I guess even rogues and taureans have mothers out there somewhere… ;)

  13. Danielle already got quite a few I was going to suggest. I’ll add Jane Eyre and Like Water for Chocolate. And if you want a chunky scifi book, Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson was a hit.

  14. My book club had probably its most interesting discussion when we read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which I’d put under your Novels of Ideas categories. This is a long one, although all of us tore right through it.

    Thank you for putting this list together, I will bring it to our meeting in a few months when we pick books for the coming year!

  15. Farmlanebooks – you’re right – that’s a wonderful book for discussion. And I’m sure some groups have the time and energy for longer reads.

    Stefanie – I must read Like Water for Chocolate myself. Those are wonderful suggestions, thank you so much.

    Verbivore – oh and another book I’d very much like to read. I’ve heard so much about The Fountainhead and really must get around to it one of these fine days. Let me know what your book group chooses – I’m really interested at the moment in what appeals!

  16. If anybody’s interested in family books, three fine additions would be Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood, Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, and Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (or Saint Maybe).

    Great list.

  17. Bob- thank you so much for those suggestions. I had thought of Jane Smiley early in the the planning stages of the post and then forgotten her – I loved that book. The Cunningham is new to me and I will certainly be looking it out.

  18. My group just read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What a gem! I guess it could go under the historical category because it takes place in the Channel Islands just after the end of WWII. Fascinating with excellent characterization. Best book I’ve read in a long time!

  19. To Kill A Mockingbird has been the favorite book of my book group that has been meeting for 6 years. I’d add: Anna Karenina, Things Fall Apart, Out Stealing Horses, Empire Falls, and Angle of Repose. The Kite Runner created lots of discussion, but I really disliked the book and never finished it.

    • I loved this book as well. My whole family is reading this novel. I have to admit it was hard getting into but was worth it after a few chapters.

  20. Just read Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese- I loved it. Other recent good reads- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle , Pillars of the Earth by Follett, and really enjoyed Loving Frank.

  21. Pingback: Best Book Club Books 2 « Tales from the Reading Room

  22. Our book club loved” The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, I had never read it before and thought it would be dated, but it was a great read, couldn’t put it down, probably my all time favorite. Also, the “Other Boylin Girl” was great.

  23. just finished The Girl That Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson ( Read The Girl with the Dragan Tattoo by the same author last winter) Is very entertaining but quite unconventional. The Swedish culture and idiosyncracies are interesting. The book features many of the same characters including the odd Salander who is a fiesty odd young woman who is insanely smart with computers and not so much with relationships. I liked the book but probably preferred the first one more. That said – you can bet I will read the third one as soon as it is released. I also recently enjoyed The Given Day by Dennis Lehane( good historical fiction of Boston in early 1900′s-though a bit gritty at times) and The Help by K. Stockett, our September bookclub book.

  24. I loved The Lost Daughter by Daralyse Lyons.

    I believe anyone with a uterus ought to read this novel. It is beautifully written, poignant and so charged with all of the issues of a mother-daughter relationship. The novel is told in the voices of women. It is beautiful! I recently moved away from my old home and my old book club but we read and discussed this novel and it was fabulous food for thought!!!!

  25. I love reading books and looked to this site to help me choose for my next book club. Trying Out Stealing Horses. To add back to your site, books I have loved over the years are, God of Small Things (although bookclub didn’t like it), A Thousand Splendid Suns, the Poisonwood Bible, The Road (again, not a hit with the bookclub), The Other Boleyn Girl, The Outcast, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret Gardener, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Hope some of you using this site, like me, for inspiration, will find something of interest in this list too.

  26. My most recent favorite book is Brooklyn by Colm Toiben (?Sp). It is a calm exploration of prejudices in the 50′s ( I am talking the Irish mixing with the Italians as well as class within ethnic groups) . In addition , a young girl comes face to face with being a responsible adult .It was a satisfying but quickread . I am still thinking about it one month later.
    I also read the Sweetness at the Bottomof the Pie- a quick quirky read told from the perspective of a precoscious 11 year old trying to solve a murder that took place on their family’s property in England in the 40′s ( I think)- worth a look if you like mysteries and the English style of writing and language.

  27. some of the books you mention are great options I had not considered, sometimes you get stuck and you dont know what to read next, so it is good to know of sites like your, I will tell my cousins about it,
    thanks for sharing
    by the way, I loved the kite runner.

  28. This is an excellent site, I have come away with some great new ideas, our book club meets this Wednesday and I really needed some “new” ideas. I have read so many of these recommended books and admit to enjoying most of them…I do agree EAT, LOVE, PRAY I did not enjoy……I should keep a record of all the books because I tend to forget the titles. One I remember is Water for Elephants, very good. The Time Travelers Wife, excellent. The Glass Castle another goody for discussion. There are so many but most have been mentioned above so let these be added…..thanks for all the help.

  29. Nice site. HERE ARE SOME BOOKS I LOVED WHICH REALLY WENT OVER WELL IN MY TWO BOOK CLUBS:
    Out Stealing Horses- Peterson
    Stoner- John Williams
    Maps for Lost Lovers- Nadeem Asham
    Lark and Termite- Jayne Anne Phillips
    Anna Karenina- (new translation) Tolstoy
    Oracle Nights-Paul Auster
    Many books by Paul Auster and by Ishiguro

    and I personally liked The Cellist of Sarajevo-Steven Calloway

  30. Just to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to add to the list here with new suggestions.

    They are very welcome! It’s great to keep it updated.

  31. Loved ‘A Prayer For Owen Meeney’ Great writing, tight suspense, and a surprise ending. Very thought provoking.

  32. Pingback: 7 x 7 Award | Tales from the Reading Room

  33. What a great list – it is also a little uncanny how many of these choices I have read for book club. We rarely all agree on a book, but found Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro even more enjoyable and thought-provoking than Never Let Me Go.

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