It had always been a dream of mine to join a book club, but I didn’t have a ready opportunity present itself until we moved to our first home back in 2017, which just happened to be in the neighborhood of an established (and very welcoming!) book club. When I found out in 2020 that we’d be moving, one of the things I was actually MOST sad about was that I wouldn’t be able to attend the monthly get-togethers anymore, which were always so much fun.
When we moved to our current home at the end of 2020, the only existing book club met during the day, which is just not a possibility for me right now with small children underfoot and a flower farm to run. However, after we’d been here several months, I got in touch with other people in the area who were wanting to start a book club that met in the evenings, and we’ve now been meeting since last August.
I’ve learned a lot over the few years I’ve been in book clubs, including the following:
For a book to be “highly discussable,” it doesn’t necessarily have to be super LIKABLE.
I’m the kind of reader that knows very specifically what I like and what I generally don’t. Attending book clubs has been a GREAT way for me to force myself to read things that I never, ever would otherwise. Besides pushing me out of my comfort zone, however, I’ve also learned that I don’t need to like a book in order to enjoy talking about it — in fact, some of the best discussions can happen when you DON’T particularly like a book or character or idea, as long as your other book club participants aren’t oversensitive to a little debate (and as long as everyone present is always civil and respectful, even when disagreeing).
The best discussions usually happen when the host takes some time beforehand to think out some thoughtful questions.
Some of the titles below had the potential for fabulous discussions…but those discussions sometimes didn’t happen because the hostess didn’t think to plan out beforehand a few topics to get the conversation going. My current book club is definitely much newer and pretty informal, so we haven’t gotten into doing any super-planned meetings or anything. However, my first book club had some truly epic get-togethers and discussions because the hostess spent a lot of time prepping and thinking about what to talk about.
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do book clubs–this is just a note that if you’re wanting a good, meaty discussion, you need to start with well-thought-out questions to get the ball rolling.
Themed book club meetings are a lot of work for the host, but they can definitely be some of the most memorable nights. (And they can also take a ‘meh’ book and elevate it to a higher level.)
Going back to some of those epic meetings from my first book club, I was amazed at how much time some of the hostesses put in to make the evening memorable. We did everything from watch clips of documentaries to having lavish themed food spreads to playing Jeopardy games about the topic to trying out firsthand what an author’s experience might have been like dealing with a particular thing.
Now, you definitely don’t need to do anything like this to have a successful and fun book club meeting, but if you like planning themed events, they can be extremely fun. (And I made notes below on some of the special themed activities that we did with the books below, just so you can see that not all of them are time- or cost-intensive.)
In the end, the books usually just act as a springboard to get people talking and interacting. The best connections are often conversations that have little to do with the book itself.
Some months, you just don’t have the time or inclination to read a particular book, but in the best book clubs, it’s worth showing up anyway because the real joy is in the connections that are made beyond the books. For me, book club is more than anything a chance to get out and have a girls’ night and a way to make and strengthen friendships and community, so try and make sure that in your book club, you still encourage people to show up and have fun, whether or not they read the chosen title for the month.
Below I’ve included most titles that I’ve personally read and participated in a book club discussion on, and I’ve also noted which were particularly successfully at getting good discussions going and which had some special activities included with them. I would love it if you would drop a comment below and share your own book club hits and misses!
Note: There are affiliate links to the books below, which means I may get a small commission on any purchases made at no extra cost to you.
Educated by Tara Westover
Admittedly, I did not ENJOY reading this book (considering that it deals with childhood neglect, abuse, and emotional manipulation), but boy, did it ever spark some deep discussions in our group! This true account of the author’s experience growing up in a extreme, survivalist family where any type of formal education or schooling was largely ignored and then how she ultimately went on to attend Harvard and Cambridge has a LOT of food for thought about family ties, education, following your own path, and more.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Here’s a perfect example of a book that had the potential for a great discussion, but which didn’t spark much because not many questions were asked other than, “What did you think of the book?” (We still had an excellent conversation about other things that night and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, but if you like to have a meaty discussion about the book at some point, you really do need to lead out with good questions.) This book about a girl who is abandoned as a young child by both parents to live and grow up on her own in the marshes is a total page-turner, and even though I’m torn on the ending, I still think it’s one of the more memorable books I’ve read in the past couple years for sure. The only thing you might need to be aware of on this one is that it does deal with some heavier themes and scenes, which might be difficult for some book club members to talk about or discuss.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This was our most recent book club discussion, and overall, I’d say it was a hit! I personally really enjoyed the book (which helped), but it also got some really good conversation going when we all talked about whether or not we would want to go back and change anything in our lives, and if so, why (or what). The book was a good springboard for allowing people to open up and get to know each other better, which was especially needed for us as our book club is still new (we’ve only been meeting for 7 months). In case you’re unfamiliar with the plot, the protagonist in this book has reached rock bottom and considers ending her life. Then, after one fateful decision, she is given the chance to visit the midnight library, where she can go back in time and see what would have happened if she would have made different decisions. This book is life-affirming and has a positive, upbeat ending, and while it does have profanity, it’s still a general recommend.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
This short classic has a real surprise ending, and it also has a lot of fun scenes leading up to the big reveal. For this book club discussion, the hostess had us play a guessing game where we were each assigned to be a character in secret, and we had to figure out who everyone was using the types of questions you might ask at a typical dinner party. If it weren’t for the game, I’m not sure we would have had a ton of discussion material because this is a pretty straightforward adventure story, but the game (not to mention the elaborate spread the hostess had put out to go along with the theme of the book) made it a memorable night all the same. This book is set during the French Revolutionary War and is all about the brave Scarlet Pimpernel, who secretly rescues dozens from the guillotine in daring escapes. You’re basically trying to figure out the whole book who he is.
Adventures With Waffles by Maria Parr
Some of the advantages of reading middle grade books for your book club are that 1) they tend to be shorter and easier to read, which means that they’re easier to finish, and 2) the content is usually pretty clean and free of triggers, which means everyone is more likely to comfortable with content. However, the downside to most middle grade books is…they’re not usually super discussable. The only thing I remember about this book is actually the book club meeting we had on it, and that’s mostly because the hostess made delicious waffles with lots of toppings for everyone 🙂 This is a book about two best friends having to deal with the pains of growing up, including losing a loved one and moving away. However, there’s also plenty of humor in this one as the pair are always going on crazy adventures and getting into mischief.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This was a phenomenal pick for a book club discussion. Not only did we all learn a ton, but the book was a springboard for some fascinating conversations about the laws governing medical research and what we think should have been differently. This nonfiction book reads like a fascinating documentary into the story of a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks whose cells have been used in scientific studies worldwide…but without her or her family’s knowledge. The hostess of this book club night also chose to make up a fun Jeopardy game to go along with it, just to see how closely we’d paid attention to the various medical and legal aspects of it. Definitely one of the more memorable selections we’ve read as a book club!
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
One thing I love about book clubs is that they force you out of your comfort zone and to read things you usually wouldn’t otherwise, especially if there are certain genres you tend to avoid. I’m not generally a huge fantasy fan, so this was a real stretch for me. I would say to be cautious about choosing *too* many of one particular kind of genre (such as mystery or fantasy) while you’re planning out the year, but it can be a fun way to switch things up. This particular fantasy–while well-written and entertaining–was overall too long of a pick for most in our book club to handle, as it was over 600 pages, so it’s not one I would generally recommend in that particular genre, though Sanderson is an excellent writer. In case you’re interested in this one, it’s a standalone novel that deals with a once-magical kingdom of demigods where the magic has since been disappearing, and now one woman is basically all that stands between it and complete domination by a conquering foe.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
This was one of the picks that I hosted on, and I’ll admit that the book by itself might not have produced a lot of conversation if I hadn’t come up with 7 or 8 carefully planned questions beforehand (although the book is so so good and was a perfect pick to read in October, as it’s spooky and gothic without being scary). Not everyone loved the book as much as I did, but that’s okay — in fact, if you have a book club atmosphere where people are really comfortable sharing their honest opinions, it can actually be more fun when people don’t care for the book as much. In this novel, the protagonist meets a handsome man while on holiday, and she is so enchanted by him that they get married shortly thereafter. However, when they return back to his estate, the new wife discovers that the shadow and presence of his former wife seem to be everywhere, and all of a sudden, something just doesn’t feel right. Deliciously creepy, this is the perfect pick for late fall, as long as you can come up with some great discussion questions to go along with it.
Restart by Gordon Korman
This was another middle grade pick about a former bully who ends up getting a head injury that causes him to lose his memory, and as he gradually starts to try and piece his life back together, he discovers that the person he was before his injury isn’t the person he wants to continue to be. Once again, there wasn’t a ton of material to discuss here, although I will say that the story itself is enjoyable (even if a little unbelievable) and that it’s one I would for sure recommend to my kids once they’re old enough to enjoy it. I think a book with a slightly similar concept that would generate a lot better discussion on this same topic would be What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Here’s an example of another book that could have the potential to spark some great discussion if the right questions were asked. There were hardly any of us that showed up to this particular discussion, so we didn’t talk too much about it, but there was enough material here that could potentially produce strong opinions one way or another, which would make for a fun meeting. This was definitely a book I would never have picked up for myself, but that’s part of what made it fun for me, and even though I didn’t *love* it, I think this could be a really fun one to talk about in the right setting. This is a love story that unfolds like a mystery, which is pieced together by the man’s daughter.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This young adult award winner provided some great discussion material, though the subject matter of the book is heavy as it deals with a rape. (If your book club ever does flight picks — where you read two books with similar themes — this one would be fascinating to pair with Beartown by Fredrik Backman). Our book discussion on this one was all over the place (in a good way), as we discussed everything from the blame that was placed on the victim to the importance and role of teachers and other authority figures. Although this book has difficult subject matter, it’s a beautiful story that’s well written and even surprisingly humorous, and I loved the ending.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This book is the perfect example that sometimes, it’s more about the planning the hostess puts in that really brings out the best discussion and insight rather than the book itself. While this book is beautifully written and thought-provoking, there isn’t a ton you can discuss about it, especially as it’s only a slim 132 pages. However, the hostess divided us all into pairs and had us try and write/translate a sentence in the way that the author had to, and it was insanely difficult, which made us all appreciate the great labor of love that this book was, both on the part of the writer and on the part of his translator. Basically, this true-life memoir is about a successful magazine editor who became completely paralyzed after a stroke, and the only means of communication or movement he had was by blinking his left eyelid. To write this story, he had to painstakingly blink out every letter individually to his assistant, but the result is pretty amazing.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
For me, my favorite book club picks have been the ones that both provided great discussion material AND that taught me something new. I’ll admit I’m limited in my knowledge and understanding of the politics and background of Pakistan, so this true account was not only educational and eye-opening, but also a definite nudge in the ribs of the importance of staying informed. Malala’s story is fairly well known now, but just in case you didn’t know, she kept attending school and standing up for girls’ educational rights even when she was threatened by the Taliban for doing so, and she was eventually shot in the head while riding the bus home from school (but miraculously survived). This book is her true account of what happened, and it will definitely make you feel a lot of Big Emotions–gratitude for the seemingly simple right to receive an education, frustration at the injustice in the world, and the desire to be courageous and stand up for what’s right.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
This is a lovely middle grade pick about a girl who has been getting into trouble her whole academic career because she’s trying to hide the fact that she can’t read (due to extreme dyslexia). It’s not until a sympathetic teacher finally takes the time to understand her and her underlying problem that she’s able to start turning things around. While an influential teacher helping a struggling student is hardly a new plot, this book did give great insight into what a child struggling with dyslexia might go through. While there wasn’t a *ton* to discuss with this one, we did participate in a memorable activity that the hostess printed out, which basically helped us all to see what it would be like to live with dyslexia, and how it would complicate seemingly straightforward tasks. A great book for teaching empathy for sure, although you’d need some really well-thought-out questions to turn it into a more lengthy discussion.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
So I actually chose to read the unabridged, original version of this book (pictured here) while my book club chose to go with the young readers’ edition, which I actually think would probably be the preferable choice for most book clubs. While the story is fascinating and totally inspiring, the original book does tend to get bogged down with history and detail, which wasn’t so much the case for the young readers’ edition (or so it would seem — I’m just going off of what my fellow book club participants said). I wasn’t sorry that I’d read the original, however, if for no other reason than I was able to supplement our book club discussion with further details and information where the young readers’ edition lacked it. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, this is the story of the inspiring men’s rowing team who took gold at the 1936 Olympics, and I loved how so many members of the team came from really hard backgrounds but managed to rise above their tough pasts and accomplish great things together. Pretty amazing stuff, and there’s lots to discuss here.
What are some books that you’ve read for book clubs that have particularly stood out to you? Please comment below and share!