Best Discussion Books for Book Club
January 4, 2014 11:46 AM   Subscribe

It is time once again for my book group to nominate and then vote on the books for the upcoming year. Any suggestions? Criteria within.

Some examples of our favorite discussions where we learn about history and ourselves and people:
Historical nonfiction and fiction - Loving Frank (Frank Lloyd Wright), No Ordinary Time (Roosevelts during WWII), Moloka'i, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Unbroken
Memoirs - Glass Castle and Tennis Partner (bonus we had enjoyed Verghese's Cutting for Stone)
Nonfiction like Quiet: The Power of Introverts

Some examples of our least favorite discussions understanding that sometimes the book might be good but the discussion is not:
Sappy, manipulative "written for book club" like Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult
Manipulative fiction like Gone Girl
Horrifying shock-value books like We've Got to Talk about Kevin
Memoirs like Eat Pray Love
Any science-fiction
Again, not to say that these aren't great books and great categories of books but they just don't interest our entire group so we stay away from them.

Please bring on the suggestions!
posted by RoadScholar to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I've been reading Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette.

It's a first person narrative and it's just lovely. I think your book club would really enjoy it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take a look at Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail.

Taking readers along the 2,000-mile California Trail, Keith Meldahl uses the diaries and letters of the settlers themselves—as well as the countless hours he has spent following the trail—to reveal how the geology and geography of the West directly affected our nation’s westward expansion. He guides us through a corrugated landscape of sawtooth mountains, following the meager streams that served as lifelines through an arid land, all the way to California itself, where colliding tectonic plates created breathtaking scenery and planted the gold that lured travelers west in the first place.

The author is a geologist; it's one of my favorite books.
posted by rtha at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife's book club grew out of her policy school study group, so these might be a bit wonky, but they had good discussions about the following:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing
The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog (very depressing)

They are currently reading My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:59 AM on January 4, 2014

I just read Orange is the New Black (the memoir that inspired the TV show) and thought it was terrific -- very well-written, vivid characters, and a compelling argument against the tough-on-crime policies that have put millions of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars.
posted by scody at 12:00 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

It could fall into the horrifying shock value category, I am not sure, but one of our bookclub's most interesting discussion was about Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. Your bookclub, or members of it, may have already read of Life of Pi too, his most well known book, and that can put an interesting spin on the discussion.

A book/s I would love to read with a bookclub - Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees (1988) and its follow up Pigs in Heaven (1993)
posted by unlaced at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2014

Consider the Fork was a great discussion for our group.
posted by bq at 12:20 PM on January 4, 2014

I think a book of short stories like George Saunders' Tenth of December would make for very interesting discussions.
posted by lois1950 at 12:31 PM on January 4, 2014

I'm on a one woman quest to get everyone to read Senselessness by Horatio Castellanos Moya. It is amazing.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:49 PM on January 4, 2014

The Warmth of Other Suns, non-fiction about African-American migration from the Jim Crow era South to U.S. cities on the West and East coasts, and the Midwest. It reads like historical fiction but it's based on the lives of three actual people, with details gleaned through interviews with them, their survivors, and close friends. The writing style reminded me a lot of James A. Michener.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2014

I just finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the first in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I found it very rich, with a lot to think about-- I think it would be good for book club discussion. On the down side, it's quite long, so you might need to plan ahead to give everyone enough time to read it.

The Worst Hard Time, about the American Dust Bowl, is on my to-read list, and from what I've flipped through, it is similar in tone and level of accessibility to No Ordinary Time.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:37 PM on January 4, 2014

James McBride's The Good Lord Bird (fiction) as well as his The Color Of Water (nonfiction).
Yang Jisheng's Tombstone: The Great China Famine, 1958-1962 (history).
Martin Sixsmith's Philomena (nonfiction, the basis for the movie of the same name).
Eilat Negev & Yehuda Koren's In Our Hearts We Were Giants (nonfiction, the story of a family of dwarfs in the Holocaust).
North Korean history: The Aquariums of Pyongyang (Chol-hwan Kang); The Cleanest Race (B. R. Myers); Living the Juche Lie (James Zumwalt); Nothing to Envy (Barbara Demick); Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader (Bradley K. Martin).
posted by easily confused at 4:03 PM on January 4, 2014

Seconding The New Jim Crow. Great book-group pick, led to lots of spirited discussion. Also, if you're looking for other social-justicey picks, Behind The Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman.
posted by whenbynowandtreebyleaf at 4:47 PM on January 4, 2014

I'm currently reading A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. Lindhout was kidnapped in Somalia and kept prisoner there for more than a year while her family tried to raise the money to pay her ransom. I am only now (about 1/3 in) reaching the part where she is kidnapped, and I've been really struck by how compelling the earlier part of the narrative is - the book is beautifully written.

My favorite nonfiction book this year, hands down, was Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, an investigation of allegations of euthanasia by medical professionals at a hospital in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While I was reading it, I couldn't help talking about it to my friends, my family, and basically everyone I could force to discuss it with me. It is dark, and long, so you'll have to read your crowd, but it's the one book this year that made me wish I had a book group because it raises the kinds of ethical issues you need other people to help you process.

Even better: long excerpts from both of these books were published in the New York Times, so you can have people look them over and see if they have a taste for the style and subject matter.

Amanda Lindhout: 12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity.

Sheri Fink: The Deadly Choices at Memorial.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:06 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

1491 by Charles C. Mann.
posted by fings at 6:14 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

My book club has read several of these! When it's my turn to choose I'm going with Confederates in the Attic. The Warmth of Other Suns is an amazing book but it is looong for a book club read.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:58 PM on January 4, 2014

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber is absolutely fascinating, the kind of book that will shift how you perceive certain physical items you probably see every day.

I haven't read this book yet, but the 99% Invisible episode based on it blew me away: Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America by Jon Mooallem.

Two thematically-related books, both compelling reading: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales and The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley.
posted by Lexica at 9:43 PM on January 4, 2014

Have you read Devil in the White City?

Kind of in the same vein, and also excellent: Sin in the Second City
posted by SisterHavana at 10:40 PM on January 4, 2014

The two books I've read recently that fit your nonfiction category are Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Death at Seaworld.

Death at Seaworld is based on the same events as Blackfish, the documentary that came out recently. It is hard to read at times, but has SO many discussion elements regarding animals in captivity.

And Group Genius is amazing in the way it looks at the process by which innovation happens.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:06 PM on January 4, 2014

These were really popular this year, so you may have already considered them:
Historical fiction - Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Non Fiction - Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
posted by kbar1 at 11:48 PM on January 4, 2014

Our group really liked Devil in the White City and We are Completely Beside Ourselves. I also just have to throw Turning On the Girls out there -- it's sort of science fiction-y, but most just fabulous, hilarious satire. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:55 PM on January 5, 2014

Promises I Can Keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage by Kathryn Edin
Animals Make Us Human: Creating the best life for animals by Temple Grandin
Why Some Like It Hot: Food, genes, and cultural diversity by Gary Paul Nabhan

These are all interesting books which seem like they'd be good for discussion. I know after I read them, I talked about them with friends even if they hadn't read them.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:02 PM on January 5, 2014

Non-fiction books I've enjoyed (and repeatedly reference/discuss still today) in 2013:
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want (Garrett Keizer)
Delusions of Gender (Cordelia Fine)
Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes (Gregg Mitman)
The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers (Michael Blastland)
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (Kathryn Schulz)

Nthing the Hilary Mantel novel Wolf Hall (although it took a bit to settle into the pronoun usage)
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2014

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