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My book club has been meeting for about two years now, and boy have we had some duds (and yes, some of them were my fault). You know what I mean: books that spark no conversation, where no one likes it strongly or hates it strongly, where it’s just meh. You talk about it for two seconds then go back to gossiping and eating chips (which is also fun, but still). Lackluster books make for a lackluster meeting. Here are recommendations that are sure to put a little fire under your book club:
The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan— First of all, mysteries are excellent book club fodder because you can always fight about how the reveal was handled (but, you know, good-naturedly). But the real magic of this book is its timeliness: the victim is a Muslim man working as an undercover agent of the Royal Canadian Police Force who is murdered while working to infiltrate a terrorist cell in a local mosque. The detectives tasked with solving the case are part of the Canadian government’s Community Policing project, working to protect the rights of minorities when they are victims of (or suspected of) crimes. Lots to talk about here! It’s the second book in a series, but you’re given all necessary background info, so don’t feel weird about not going in order.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher— My book club had varying levels of Star Wars fandom when we read this book (right after Carrie Fisher died), but the movies are such pop culture touchstones, no one felt unmoored by the selection. We had really interesting conversations about privilege, mental health, addiction, and the pressures of fame and how different celebrities handle it. It wasn’t debate-fodder necessarily, but was still a lovely experience.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi— A multi-generational saga that starts with two sisters in Ghana, one married to a British slaver and one sold into slavery, and follows their families over 300 years. For a multi-generational saga it’s still a manageable book club length at just about 300 pages. It’s a lyrical, engrossing history of race and slavery that doesn’t hide the effect the institution continues to have on people of both continents. Your “all lives matter” members will have a lot to say, no doubt.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett— A young troubled girl gets involved with her preacher’s son while she mourns her mother’s suicide. She ends up pregnant and chooses to get an abortion, then tries to move on past the relationship and her childhood church and home. The main character is complex and real and at times very unlikeable, major issues are discussed in a compassionate and non-preachy (heh) way, and the titular mothers, the elderly church women telling the story, guide you the whole way through. The churched and non-churched alike will find so much here to rant/love/hate/dismiss/get drunk over.
Infomocracy by Malka Older— Toss a little genre into the mix and see how folks respond! Infomocracy is science fiction but it’s near-future and takes place on Earth, so newbies to the SFF land won’t be entirely lost. It’s a good intro. It’s a sci-fi political thriller set a couple dozen years into the future where society is split into centenals, units of 100,000 people with their own “micro-democracy,” or autonomous political party. The world ruling party is the Super Majority, and Information is the Google/Facebook-esque company that oversees the whole shebang. If your book club hasn’t had a “fake news” or “alternative facts” conversation yet, they will now.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid— A short (short is good for book clubs) love story with a hint of magical realism. Two young people meet and fall in love in an embattled and unnamed Middle Eastern city, and as the violence escalates they start to hear rumors of mysterious doors that take you to new countries. The couple flees, as do millions of other people, refugees to and from who knows where ending up who knows where. Obviously relevant, and a simple way to up your conversation to current events.
They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery— A short (there’s a theme here, I’m noticing) history of the Black Lives Matter movement and the journalists who covered it, starting with Ferguson and Baltimore. If your book club is interested in current political movements or what’s going on in the world outside their door, this will be right up their alley. If not, you can be one of those folks who picks a book because they like to watch the world burn.
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas— Another mystery, but this one a little more light-hearted (I mean, people still die gruesome deaths but it’s historical so it feels a little less doleful? Is that awful?). But it’s a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes! So fun! And there’s nothing book clubs like more than a game of “which version is better,” and spirits can run high in those discussions, so gird yourself!
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria— Want to work a little YA fantasy into your book club? Try one that’s low-key about racial profiling, except magic profiling, and set in Prohibition-era Boston! And tells an excellent story about the power of female friendships! And considers race and privilege and class and sexism and also has fun dresses!
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton— Melton’s memoir of overcoming addiction and eating disorder, and then getting married and having her husband cheat on her, is conversation fodder if there ever was one. Reviews of the book show that some people find her story “whiny” or are turned off by the spiritual aspects of what she’s saying, but there’s a universality to her heartbreak that will have some of your book club members breaking out the tissues.
That’s it for me! What books have your book clubs read that really lit up the conversation?
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