Ten 2019 Books that are Perfect for Book Clubs
And Two 2018 Bonus Picks
It’s a new experience for me, but for the first time ever I’m currently part of a successful book club. And now that it’s part of my life, I can’t really imagine my reading world without our monthly meet-ups. I love getting the chance to discuss the books I’m reading in real life as well as online. Not only does it help me articulate my own ideas about a book, but I also get to learn from my fellow readers and delve into deep topics of conversation with my friends.
Over the last year and a half or so, our book club has discovered what sorts of books work best for the conversations we like to have. For us, the best book club books do one or more of the following:
- Allow us to talk about our own lives and values.
- Offer us a window into lives and cultures that are different from our own.
- Encourage healthy disagreement.
- Require us to analyze characters’ choices and motivations.
The list below is a selection of new releases that I think would be perfect for a bookish gathering. If your book club has a similar vibe to mine, you just might enjoy reading one of these new releases once the library waitlists die down a bit in 2020!
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson. There’s so much to unpack in this book: it’s fantastical, mythical, and layered with allegorical meaning...I really wish I’d had a book club to discuss it with after I read it. But it’s also an adventure story set in the last viable sultanate during the Spanish Inquisition that will appeal to readers who prefer more plot-driven books.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger. The Gifted School is a “rich people behaving badly” book, a sub-genre beloved by book clubs. This one takes a slightly different approach by looking at the lengths parents will go to to ensure that their kids have an advantage and are perceived as special. The characters in this book make so many bad decisions that would be delightful to unpack with friends, while still being realistic enough to prompt conversations about serious issues.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. This nonfiction title was extremely hyped when it was released this summer. It’s salacious premise (an in-depth look at the sex lives of three real women) and promise to be the definitive book on female desire turned a lot of heads. Then came the backlash, most of which rightly critiqued the book for its lack of diversity or took issue with the way Taddeo presented each woman’s trauma. I think these issues are actually what make Three Women a perfect book club book because you can discuss both what the book does and what it fails to do. I’m so glad I read this book, but I’m particularly grateful that my book club chose it as one of our picks because talking about it really helped me get a handle on my complicated thoughts.
The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames. The Other’s Gold almost seems tailor-made for book clubs. First of all, it’s about four female friends, and while their friendship is complicated it’s real and primarily positive. So many books about female friendship are about toxic female friendship, and I love that this book breaks the mold. Second, each section of this book revolves around the “biggest mistake” each woman makes in her life. Every single one of these mistakes surprised me and each alone would spur hours of conversation.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. Family sagas make exceptional book club picks and this one is sprawling and original. Focusing on four sisters whose lives seem predetermined by their parents’ perfect marriage, The Most Fun We Ever Had has characters you’ll love and characters you’ll love to hate. One of the most fun (get it?) things about discussing this book will be discovering which sister each of your friends allies herself with. This book is long, so keep that in mind when considering it for your group.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. Essay collections don’t tend to be the best fit for my book club, but I think Trick Mirror could buck this trend. Tolentino covers everything from the way the internet impacts our identities, to the literary heroines who shaped us, to the #MeToo movement. This is a book I could not shut up about during and after reading it, so I would love the chance to discuss it with more of my friends.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. This is another multigenerational family saga, but at only 200 pages any reader can easily manage this evocative and poetic novella. The book follows a family that’s forever altered when a teenage daughter gets pregnant. The lasting effects this has on familial relationships and the choices characters make throughout are infinitely discussable. Plus there’s a bit of a twist at the end that is utterly heart wrenching.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Fleishman is in Trouble is another 2019 novel that my book club tackled this year. The premise of the book--a newly divorced man in his 40s discovers online dating--belies the complexity of the gender politics and commentary on marriage that this exceptional work offers. Some of us loved the book and others hated it, but our conversation about it was fantastic.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. A lot of great book club books are super serious, but it’s always nice to read something that makes us laugh and that offers a little hope. This is a book that takes on very serious issues with a sense of humor and a little magical realism, I mean who wouldn’t want to discuss step-children who spontaneously combust.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Before this one, I had never read a book about an abusive lesbian relationship. The story Machado tells as well as the commentary she gives about whose stories get told and what effect that has is so worthy of in-depth discussion. Additionally, Machado uses an entirely original structure that would be really interesting to unpack with a group of readers.
2018 Bonus Picks
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This is another small but mighty novel that does a lot of work in less than 250 pages. This book is a page-turner; it’s fun, compelling, and wholly original. But there’s also a lot to talk about here in terms of family loyalty, sibling dynamics and toxic relationships.
Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. Stay With Me was my book club’s February pick and I’m still thinking about our conversation. Set in Nigeria, this book deals with polygamy, infertility, and infidelity in such a thoughtful, generous manner. The book loves its characters so even when they make horrible decisions, we love them too. For my book club, this led to a lot of mid-discussion Googling and a long series of follow-up emails. Plus, in spite of the heaviness of some of the subject matter, we also laughed a lot.
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