Book clubs: if you’ve ever been in one, you know how the chosen book can make or break that month. A really great selection can entice people to join and make for lively and thoughtful discussions, and a not-so-great pick can result in lots of silence and awkward pauses — not to mention a lack of interest in reading the book. The pressure!
So what goes into a good book club pick? A great plot, interesting characters, good writing, and thought-provoking ideas or topics. I’ve been in book clubs with both fiction and nonfiction reads, and I’ve had good and not-good book club meetings for both. But what also helps are the book club members. Are they willing to talk about something even if they disagree? Will they read the book even if it stirs up some uncomfortable feelings? Even if a book isn’t excellent or may not have been your cup of tea, if it sparks discussion or ideas, I think that’s a good thing.
The following books are wonderful book club picks for your next book club. There are both fiction and nonfiction books on the list, and each one will keep you reading and will have you wanting to discuss it with other people.
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu
As a biracial Chinese American girl growing up in the NJ suburbs, Willa Chen didn’t quite fit in anywhere — even in her blended families after her parents divorced. When she gets a job as a nanny to a white family, she is surrounded by things she never had: wealth, an intact family, and stable relationships. When she becomes a live-in, she’s forced to reconcile her own past and who she is with what surrounds her now. This is a great book that will spark lots of discussions about family, identity, and how we see ourselves.
Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu
When a boy, Kalki, is born with blue skin in Tamil Nadu, India, pilgrims come to see him for blessings, believing Kalki to be an incarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu god. After passing the trials that prove his divinity at the age of 10, Kalki starts to doubt his power. The following ten years bring upheaval: his family falls apart and he questions every relationship he has, or thought he had, and explores who he really is. It’s a beautifully written story that begs to be discussed with others.
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed
It’s the last weeks of pregnancy for Seema, a Muslim Indian lesbian who’s been estranged from her family. She works as a consultant for Kamala Harris’s attorney general campaign and recently split from the baby’s father. When her mother and sister call her and decide to come visit her, events are set into motion that will change everyone’s life forever over the course of one week. Told from the point of view of the baby from the moment of its birth, this is one that your book club won’t forget anytime soon.
Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel by Ethan Michaeli
Forget what you think you know — in this fascinating work of nonfiction, Michaeli captures various groups of this fractured country and brings to life how complex and intertwined everyone can be. Discussions with older founders of the kibbutz movement, Israeli Arabs fighting discrimination, Palestinians working to build the foundations of a state, and ultra-Orthodox Haredim are all in the pages of this book — and much more. Rather than provide easy answers, this is a book that invites you to meet all of these people and hear their stories and take a look into their lives. It’s perfect for starting a book club discussion and challenging ideas people might have prior to reading it.
The Family Chao: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang (February 1, 2022)
Lan Samantha Chang is a masterful writer, and this novel has it all: family tension and secrets, a murder trial, racism, the American dream, and complicated relationships. When the patriarch of a well-known, popular Chinese restaurant is found dead (presumed murdered), his sons are thrust into the public eye of the small town. Funny, heartbreaking, and layered with emotion, Chang’s latest book is definitely one to keep in mind for book club next year.
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
If you have a book club that loves long reads, this one is a must. This title weaves together three very separate stories that come together in a cave in the Belizean jungle: royal twins who rule a Mayan kingdom, a young American woman on a solo trip, and two individuals fighting for power in a post-catastrophic climate change world. Byrne spins these tales so vividly and juggles various parts in a way that brings them together to make a kaleidoscopic whole with plenty of insight and detail. It’s an epic story that provides plenty of opportunity for discussion and questions.
When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
A good mystery is always a winning book club pick: there’s lots to talk about with the plot, and the way the author handles the story and the characters. Cash delivers on both, especially with his latest book. When a low-flying plane crash lands in the middle of the night and the body of a local man is found shot dead next to it, Sheriff Barnes knows something’s not right. He begins a murder investigation that sparks racial tensions that soon explode. Cash weaves a story of small-town Southern life, family secrets, and how the past can reach into the present. This is a story that invites plenty of discussion and analysis.
The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture by Matthew Stewart
If this doesn’t get your book club talking, I don’t know what will. Most discussions of wealth have centered around the top 0.1% since they have the most. But the other 9.9 percent of the top 10% are the ones that control over half the wealth in the U.S. — and will fight to keep their foothold. This is a really interesting look at the top 9.9% and how they’ve helped create further inequality.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez (January 4, 2022)
This comes out in January, so keep it in mind for your book clubs early next year. This is a wonderful and thought-provoking story of a successful brother and sister living in NYC who seem to have it all — but their family story holds secrets. Their mother abandoned them when they were young, leaving them with their grandmother. With hurricane season closing in, their mother’s reappearance causes a storm of its own. Politics, the American dream (or the idea of it), love, and family — what more could a book club want?
Whether you’re looking for fiction or nonfiction, mystery or family saga, or just a book you and your fellow book clubbers won’t be able to put down, keep these at the top of your list! Not only are they fascinating and immersive reads, but they’re also perfect for starting discussions and further analyzing of the stories.