Shhh. Listen. I'm going to let you in on the secret of picking a good book club book. And don't go spreading it around because then everyone will be doing it. The secret is - pick a book you think you're actually going to enjoy reading. Not exactly mind-blowing, I know. However, many people make this mistake. Maybe you've even caught yourself doing it a time or two. Yes, you. You can admit it. It's OK. It's a common rookie mistake. Many people get caught up in the sophisticated idea of a book club and believe, therefore, that they should only read difficult, classic literature like Faulkner and Tolstoy. I don't know about you, but I've never understood a word Faulkner wrote. I never enjoyed reading his books in school, so why would I want to read them for fun?
There are plenty of mainstream fiction books that are perfect for a book club. If it makes you think, if it makes you sad, angry, happy, if it makes you wonder, if it makes you want to tell your friends about it - then it's a good book for a book club.
Still stumped for ideas? Looking for a little direction to start you off on your book club journey? Take a look at these suggestions. They are sure to start an enlivening conversation over a nice glass of Pinot Noir.
“My Sister's Keeper” by Jodi Picoult
Most of Jodi Picoult's books would make great book club selections. Her novels always center on a moral dilemma. However, “My Sister's Keeper” is easily her best novel. Well-written and engrossing, this book will have you glued to your sofa cushion until you're finished the last page. And wait until you get to the end. Talk about shocking.
This book isn't complex, per se, but the subject matter is thought provoking and heavy. There are no winners or happy endings in this story.
The book asks the question: Should a teenage girl (who is 13 years old in this case) be legally authorized to make her own decisions when it comes to donating her bone marrow to her older sister who has leukemia? The moral question is should a teenage girl, who was only created because her parents hoped she would be a bone marrow match for her sister, have to donate her marrow or should she be able to choose?
Once you finish the book, prepare a couple questions to ask during the discussion portion of your book club meeting. Need a head start? Try one, or all, of the following questions:
What did you think of the ending of the book?
Was the verdict in the trial the correct one?
Do you think Sara is a good mother? Why or why not?
Do you think parents should be able to have “designer babies” in cases such as this one, where a sick child could be helped by cells of a matching sibling?
What could the adults in this novel learn from the children?
“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan
If you're not much of a history or architecture buff you probably don't know too much about Frank Lloyd Wright. Turns out, he was a fairly scandalous and fascinating person. A man who loved women, Frank had many mistresses. However, “Loving Frank” focuses on just one mistress - Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the rumored love of Frank's life. Their love story incited gossip, rumor and judgment from those who knew them and those who did not. There is so much to talk/debate about in this book it makes for a perfect book club selection. And their love story is as seductive as it is sad.
If you don't already know how their love story ends, don't go scouring the Internet to find out. Let the story unfold in the book. You won't be disappointed.
Although this book is mainly a love story, it's not chick-lit. It's more along the lines of classic fiction but not as weighty.
A major talking point for this novel surrounds the ideals of love, infidelity and what constitutes good parenting. Both Frank and Mamah were married at the time their affair began. Mamah later went on to divorce her husband - during a time when women did not get divorced. She left her children with her ex-husband, causing quite a stir, to find herself and to be with Frank.
During book club, you might ask if this made Mamah a bad mother for leaving her children to follow her heart and find out who she was? Was Frank a cad or was he a more complicated soul than that?
How does the life of Mamah relate to the lives of women today? Why do you think the author chose the title “Loving Frank” for this book? Do you think women who make similar choices as those Mamah made are treated any differently than she was? Are they given more or less support/acceptance?
“The Last Time They Met” by Anita Shreve
You might recognize author Anita Shreve's name thanks to Oprah. The queen of daytime talk shows chose Shreve's book, “The Pilot's Wife,” as one of her Oprah Book Club selections.
“The Last Time They Met” is a standout among Shreve's many novels. This book will stay with you long after you've finished it. The story, particularly the ending, is haunting.
It's the story of connections and how your decisions affect your past and your future. Main character Linda Fallon bumps into an old lover at a literary festival some 20 years after their breakup. Since then, she's married, had a child and been widowed. Their chance meeting reignites old feelings and questions. The novel moves backward from Linda's life now to her teenage years, when she first meets Thomas Janes. At the end, you'll find you may have to go back and read the last five pages - or maybe even the whole book. It's that shocking.
This book is not a challenging read by any means. But the story and the plotting will keep you glued to the page.
One of the first questions you should ask in book club is this - how did the author intend the reader to interpret the ending of the book? Did the author hint at any point during the novel of what transpires in the end?
Why did Thomas Janes name his most successful poems the Magdalene poems? What meaning might this name have? Why were Thomas and Linda drawn to each other as teenagers? Is it possible to love two people at the same time? Can one moment define the rest of your life?
“Animal Dreams” by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver's novel “Animal Dreams” is a beautifully written love story that takes a deeper look into the commitments we make in life and what it all means. Main character Codi Noline doesn't have dreams anymore. She's listless and hopeless. She returns to her hometown in Arizona to face her past - and estranged father.
The imagery that Kingsolver uses is stunningly beautiful. Kingsolver's elegant writing may just inspire you to take a good, long look at your life and confront some of your hopes and fears.
This is the type of book you may have read in high school or college - full of opportunities to analyze and figure out the symmetry and meanings of imagery.
During book club toss out some of these questions:
Why does Codi become more engaged with the world than her sister Hallie? How can two such different people come from the same family? How does Codi change by going home? What kind of parent was Codi's father? Discuss the novel's themes of memory, amnesia and identity.
“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
The circus - with its bearded ladies, dwarfs and array of dangerous animals - is similar to a train or car accident - you don't want to keep looking but you can't tear your eyes away. At one time or another, we've all wondered what it's like to be a part of the circus. Oh, come on, you know you have.
What really goes on in that tent? Who are these characters who make up a circus?
“Water for Elephants” is an engrossing, beautifully written novel about an orphaned, broke young boy - Jacob Jankowski - who finds himself in a boxcar with members of a traveling circus.