Saturday, October 31, 2015

10 picks for a book club reading list you can't resist

 Book Club (courtesy of
Maybe some of you could resist my list if you really tried, but why deprive yourself of delectable reading material just to spite my love of rhyme? Hang with me; the payoff is in the pages.

One of the hardest parts of any book club is selecting novels all the members will love every single month. While you're about as likely to find that as a unicorn, what you can find are wonderful books that most members will enjoy and the disenchanted few will at least be able to appreciate for some aspects (like gorgeous writing) and find topics to mull over.

I think of book club choices in terms of heavy and light. Alternating between the two strikes a balance to meet members' differing tastes and lets you temper that beautiful yet complex book one month with a breezier read the next. My heavy choices aren't really *that* heavy (War and Peace didn't even come close to making my list), but they weigh more in both effort and impact than light options. That doesn't mean they're suffocating or boring, but it does mean they should be masterfully written and leave you feeling like the time invested to read them was well spent.

My definition of "light" books consists of ones that are an easier read either because they're less complex or just more fun, and they'll basically have a lighter feel overall (though even most "light" books deal in some way with sadness or tough choices because hey, authors know conflict and challenges draw us in). Honestly, sometimes it's a thin line between heavy and light reads. However, even the light selections should be well-written, have a good plot, and contain themes worth discussing. They'll just tread a little more lightly on your noggin than a heavy choice.

That in mind, here are a selection of titles from both ends of the spectrum (in no particular order) that should happily see your group through a couple hours of discussion and a few bottles of wine (or pots of coffee, as the case may be):

Heavy and loving it

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The beautiful, tragic magic of this book will linger in your thoughts long after you finish. And it manages all this with a smooth, readable style. It's simply gorgeous.

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book somehow mingles a harsh, post-apocalyptic landscape with hope and beauty. It's an interesting read, and will give your group ample discussion material -- from how quickly society could be decimated by a pandemic, to what would life be like for the survivors? And would you, could you, find a way to do more than just survive?

3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. A beautifully written look at a broken family and all the things the members conceal from each other, this tale weaves characters that feel real. It deals with the mystery of a missing girl, at the same time delving into racial identity and the problems of a fractured family. All of that, and the ending, will stimulate discussion. BTW, her last name is pronounced "ing" as in playING, writING, etc. That question must come up often, as evidenced by the handle on her enjoyable Twitter account: @pronounced_ing.

4. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. A woman lives the same life over and over, dying and beginning again. Each life has opportunities for change, different paths. This took me until about 16-20 percent of the way in before it really grabbed me, and then it wouldn't let me go. It will wrap it's way around you, reader, and give you much to process -- and discuss.

5. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. Damn, I love this book. I've read it twice and plan to return to it again in years to come. I love it so much I don't even know how to describe it adequately. It's a look at office life, at life in general, at our relationships and interactions with others, at how we are. It's written in the first person plural, and that really works for this book in a way that's hard to understand until you see it in action. It feels so real; the characters, I've worked with many of them. It has a few very tragic storylines (mixed in with lighter ones), and yet is one of the funniest books I've ever read. It's surprisingly complex without really feeling like it is.

Keeping it light

6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Fun, funny, touching. Your group will love it, and it provides a welcome breather if you read a novel about war or apocalypse the month before.

7. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. This book is as delightful as it is brief (120 pages). A whimsical tale for booklovers (and perhaps those intrigued by royalty), it's simply a pleasure. I listened to the audiobook and laughed out loud more than once. You could fill a whole discussion group chatting it over, but you could also finish mulling it over in 30 minutes. Which makes it perfect if you want to leave time to chat about other things after the book talk, or maybe you're mixing it in with a Christmas party, baby shower, etc. Whatever the reason, if you need a book that is wonderful and fun and will give you plenty to talk over, but not so much that it can't be a shorter discussion, this is for you.

8. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. You could probably pick anything by this author and please a crowd. This is a mix of very light in some ways, and heavy in some of its plot points. Everyone in my book group enjoyed this book, and many went on to read more of Moriarty's work. And they all liked anything else they read by her, too. This is something that most in your group will love or at least like well enough they don't begrudge the time spent reading it. Winner winner chicken dinner.

9. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This thriller is killer. The engrossing tale was hard to put down. One of the complaints (they aren't many for this wildly popular story) is that there are no likable characters. Well boohoo. Hmm, that may be a bit too flip. What I mean to say is a character can be compelling even if she or he isn't someone you'd want to hang with at the pub. They can also be intriguing without liking them, and spark sympathy, too. The main character here isn't history's greatest monster, she's just a major screw up. Some other characters might be a bit more craptastic than she, but are still interesting.

10. Shopgirl by Steve Martin. Here's another book I dearly love. That affection may be due to the fact I first read it when I was a lovelorn 20-something wondering why relationships never seemed to work for me. A friend, who was in a similar situation, recommended it. The amazing thing here is how well Martin seems to understand that men and women can have a conversation and both walk away with a completely different concept of what was said. Especially when you've just started dating, don't know the other person very well, and aren't pushing for specific details. This has bitten me in the ass more than once when I was single, I can attest. And it's so much more than that. I don't know if the book feels the same if you read it the first time from the lofty perch of being happily wrapped in a good relationship, but hopefully it will. Maybe you'll see something different coming from that perspective. It's wonderful and oft overlooked and probably not what you'd expect from Martin. This is also a shorty at 130 pages, but I think you'll find oceans to talk about -- especially if your group has plenty of members who remember the struggles of the dating world (or may still be floundering in those waters themselves).

No comments:

Post a Comment