I could talk about books all day long. In fact, I’d love to do just that. But since it’s not exactly practical, and it would take forever to type up an entire day’s worth of discussion, a wee blog post must suffice. Well, two blog posts.
I previously mentioned that I’ve been part of several book clubs over the last decade or so. I also suggested a few of my book club dos and don’ts to help others either get started or just maintain momentum for their own clubs.
Here, I’d like to continue exploring that topic by presenting some of my favorite book club books so far. It should be noted that I have a horrible–absolutely awful–memory and yet these books have stayed with me because they sparked such rich conversations.
Let me preface this list with a small clarification. While there is certainly some crossover between these books and my all-time favorites, they are not necessarily the same. Some books lend themselves to thought-provoking conversations but still may not be completely up my alley. Similarly, some of the books that I think are just mind-blowing may prove to be uninspiring to others.
“Did you like the book?” “No. I don’t even have much to say about it.” “Okay, great discussion. Have some more hummus.” On the positive side, food. On the other side, that’s not why we’re here today. Focus, Mama Bear. Focus.
While I loved all of the following books, they are my favorite specifically for discussion. My all-time favorite list will eventually come up in a different post.
Top 10 Books for Discussion: Books 10 to 6
Without further adieu, here is the first half of the list of books I’d recommend you add to your book club’s to-read list. For what it’s worth, the order is fairly insignificant. They’re all very good.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
This heart-wrenching novel tells the tale of three generations of one family: parents forced to make a horrifying decision, children torn apart and never fully able to recover, and a granddaughter trying to make sense of her own life. Hosseini’s beautiful storytelling ability evoked several emotions from our group and made us discuss familial sacrifice and belonging.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This short nonfiction work was not the easiest for some of the book club members to finish, but it was one of the most impactful for those who did. It’s only 165 pages and is broken into two sections: one about Frankl’s time as a Nazi death camp prisoner and one about the existential search to find meaning in one’s life. World War II books seem to attract book clubs (as evidenced by the next recommendation actually), but this one was incredibly different from any other I had ever read.
Unlike many other accounts of prison camps, Frankl provides more of an analysis of people’s psyches than detailing what exactly occurred in the camp. Though it’s been several years since I read it, I remember being especially affected by the idea of a prisoner finding humanity in some prison guards and finding a lack of humanity in some fellow prisoners.
Furthermore, his theory of “logotherapy,” which he details in the second half of the book, really resonated with me when I read it. The main idea behind this concept is that human beings are driven by the need to discover their individual meanings in life, that all lives have meaning, and that people are free to find this meaning (even those in horrific situations). Though I luckily cannot relate to being a prisoner, I read this when I had just finished college and was going through a bit of a quarter life crisis. This book helped me examine the meaning in my own life in terms of what was ahead. And while the other members of my book club were very mixed in terms of age and life experience, it made everyone take a look at their own lives in a similar way. Any book that can do that is worth discussing.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Our February 2016 pick, this Pulitzer Prize winner is the most recently discussed book on the list. Another World War II book, this time fictional, it tells the story of two young people trying to survive the war. The first is a blind French girl who must leave her home in Nazi-occupied Paris and adjust to life in a small seaside town that is increasingly affected by the war. The second is a German orphan who is more or less coerced into joining Hitler Youth and becoming a technical specialist of sorts. They both encounter several memorable characters before their paths collide.
Even though it was a bestseller for so long, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now I am so glad we read it. The chapters are short and the story is captivating, so the other group members and I found ourselves reading it rather quickly. That said, it was the kind of book that made me want to slow my pace a little to actually savor the prose. Put simply, this book is beautifully written. Its imagery is profound; I felt like I could run my hands along the streets of Saint-Malo and smell the salty sea air myself. There was a lot to discuss in this book, from Doerr’s writing style to the war and its effects on the people on both sides. Plus, a book that everyone ends up enjoying is a big bonus.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
If you ever want to feel like a terrible human being, but in a positive, I-will-be-better kind of way, read this book.
The World Without Us is a thought experiment conducted by Weisman, the premise of which is, “What would happen to the Earth if humans suddenly didn’t exist anymore?” To find out how long it would take nature to reclaim what is rightfully hers and to see what legacy humans would leave behind (answer: so.much.plastic.), Weisman interviewed scientists and other experts and used abandoned sites such as Chernobyl, Ukraine to illustrate his findings.
Interestingly, the book doesn’t focus too much on what humans are doing wrong so much as the world we would leave behind. Even still, this book really makes you think about the impact of your actions. I’ve always had a crunchy side to me, but reading about how something as commonplace as a plastic bag will be here for thousands of years to come made me cringe, hold my baby close, and whisper to him, “Please be a positive change in this world.” While it’s unlikely humans will ever just disappear without some damage to the animals or environment around us, it’s somewhat comforting to know that if we did, it wouldn’t take too long for things to start growing over what we’ve claimed as ours.
If I had to describe this book in one word, I’d say “eye-opening.” Our discussion was rife with ideas of how to make changes in our own lives, even small ones. Any book that forces you to think outside yourself is a good one to discuss.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
This was one of the first books I ever read for a book club. It’s a nonfiction crime story detailing the murders of four members of a small-town Kansas family. Capote was culturally significant in his own right, but this book is particularly interesting because it is considered by many to be the first piece of literary nonfiction. Capote himself called it a “nonfiction novel” and it reads exactly like that. It includes dialogue and narrative from multiple perspectives, and is full of suspense. These qualities made for an extremely engrossing read.
Critics have said there are a number of discrepancies from what actually occurred and what is represented in the novel, which it seems Capote repeatedly denied. This was one of the things that made our book club discussion so engaging. We talked about the prose and the overall writing style, sure, but we also had a little debate about how much we personally believed and about how much it mattered either way. Journalism ethics for the win!
To Be Continued…
Check back soon to read part two of this list where I’ll reveal my top five favorite book club books. I might even have to throw in an honorable mention section because this is so hard!
In the Meantime
What are your favorite book club books? Or your favorite books that you’re dying to discuss but haven’t had the opportunity yet? I want suggestions!