Let’s start off 2020 right with a selection of the best book club books. Some of these were published in late 2019, while some aren’t released yet, so they’re split into sections by publication date. Read up on some older recommendations for bonus ideas. If you’ve been struggling to find some good questions, we have ideas for that too.
Best Book Club Books: End of 2019
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates’s debut novel mixes magical realism with historical fiction as it tells the story of Hiram Walker, who joins the underground railroad and then discovers he has a supernatural power called “conduction” that allows him to basically use water as a transporter. The narration seethes with atmosphere from the first page, as Coates tells a poignant fairy tale about shared memory and history.
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
Victor Tuchman is not a good person. Power-hungry and toxic, his impending death brings his dysfunctional family together. I loved Attenberg’s The Middlesteins and was awed by her ability to thoughtfully capture the dynamics of family anxiety; I’m hopeful that All This Could Be Yours will be packed with brilliant characters and witty insights.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s latest is a sharp, vivid novel about family and class differences, specifically how those are affected by a teenage pregnancy. It moves between the stories of 16-year-old Melody and the family that surrounds her, including parents Iris and Aubrey as well as grandparents Sabe and Sammy Po’Boy. Woodson’s gorgeous storytelling will pull readers in immediately.
The Wagers by Sean Michaels
Theo Potiris is a struggling stand-up comic, stuck in a career rut and living his life according to the occasional horse bet. Set in a very well-rendered Montreal, the at-times dizzying prose jumps from ordinary literary fiction to strange, magical twists that readers are unlikely to see coming.
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
I’ve already posted that this was my favourite book of 2019, but I also believe it will be amazing to discuss in a book club. There is a lot to content to break down in here: explorations of gender roles and marriage; a critique of societal expectations on women; characters who veer from unlikable to likable to unlikable again; realistic portrayals of anxiety and depression; online dating culture and more and more and more.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Vuong, a queer Vietnamese American poet, has written a heartbreaking observation on the complexities of families. Composed as a letter addressed to his single mother, it is a lyrical, taut portrait of generational trauma, abuse, and how we move through the world.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (January 21, 2020)
Set in 1930s Spain, Roser and Victor flee to Chile to get away from Franco’s fascist regime. Their marriage is purely one of convenience, and their story is a multi-generational epic that follows the characters from Spain to France, Chile, Argentina, and eventually the United States. In addition to being well-researched historical fiction, it also parallels current issues.
The Circus by Jonas Karlsson (January 28, 2020)
You had me at: “It all started with the usual discussion: is it possible to be friends with someone who listens to Fix You by Coldplay?” I can really appreciate a book that fully embraces the weirdness of its characters, and Karlsson is a master of that sort of tomfoolery. The nameless narrator visits the circus with his childhood friend Magnus, who then disappears properly while volunteering for the magician’s vanishing act. Overall, this novella has a brisk, obvious absurdity that doesn’t so much flow as crash chapter to chapter.
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild (February 6, 2020)
One of many books on this list about dysfunctional families—c’mon, we all tend toward preferred themes. This satire focuses on a family of ridiculous English aristocrats and their once-impressive-but-now-decaying stately home.
Weather by Jenny Offill (February 11, 2020)
Set in post-Trump America, this is about the anxiety of an uncertain future in a divided world. The narrative follows librarian Lizzie Benson as she weaves through comedy and misery in relatable ways. If you like a slightly nonlinear dark comedy set in the modern world, then this novel will definitely make for engaging discussions about climate change, personal responsibility and anxiety.
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (February 25, 2020)
Looking for a lighthearted read? Maybe something that will remind you all to live your best life? This is a charming, quirky story about aging and self-discovery, following a woman’s experiences across various decades and cultural trends. About to turn 19 on New Year’s Eve, Oona Lockhart suddenly and unexpectedly develops the ability to time-hop. It then occurs every New Year’s Eve, ripping her out of events in a sort of Groundhog Day loop affect.
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card (March 3, 2020)
Card’s debut novel is about Stanford Solomon, who faked his own death 30 years ago before stealing his friend’s identity. After a lifetime of lying and hiding, Solomon moves into a care home and guess who turns out to be the nurse assigned to him? His daughter, Irene. (Cue scandalized screaming.) In summary, I’m ready for this story ASAP.
Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian (March 24, 2020)
Yunus Turabi is a bus driver, living an ordinary life in Iran until a violent bus strike moves him to action. Yanus is detained by police and brought to a jail for political insurgents, then faces off against investigator Hajj Saeed. Admadi Arian is a prolific writer in both Persian and English, but there is a lot of buzz about this, his first novel written in English.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (March 24, 2020)
In the very anticipated follow up to Mandel’s Station Eleven, the story jumps from 1999 to the present day and follows Vincent, Paul, and Jonathan as they cope with moments of greed, guilt, ambition, and love. For the most part, the writing rambles along, slowly unveiling a constant, impending sense of dread.
The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen (March 17, 2020)
A fictional account of the real experiences from Vietnamese people who lived through the Vietnam War. Told from the alternating perspective of a teenage girl, Ha Noi, and her grandmother Tran Dieu Lan. Flowing across multiple generations of the Tran family, it offers a glimpse of coping with war and the continuing aftereffects.
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya (April 7, 2020)
Described as a story about “falling in friendship”, it tells the story of how a single petty Tweet can create a rift between two musicians. When Neela’s song is covered by rising internet artist Rukmini, the women bond intensely. Unfortunately, as only one of them succeeds, the other grows frustrated and lashes out.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (April 14, 2020)
Originally published in Korea back in 2016, this novel is famous for inspiring an essential feminist movement. Kim Jiyoung is raising her young daughter in Seoul when she develops an eerie tick and begins impersonating the voices of other women. Can her strange ailment be cured?
Best Book Club Books: Nonfiction
Dear Girls by Ali Wong
Written as letters to her very young daughters, these pages offer up hilarious, honest life advice. And, if you enjoy Wong’s deliciously blunt stand-up, you will love these raunchy, witty stories about growing up, discrimination, parenting, and sex.
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
West’s latest is a collection of cultural criticisms that will make for some great discussions. Topics for analyses include Trump, Adam Sandler, teen movies, and more. As always, her writing mixes humour with scorched-earth frankness, so get a notebook ready to jot down comments as you read.
There you go, the 20 best book club books for the new year. If you can handle all of these and then more, you should sign up for the latest Read Harder challenge. Now email this list to your friends and let the choosing begin!