Book Club Books

In the fall of 2008, when I was living in Brooklyn, I helped to start and run a book club. We met consistently (once a month, give or take) for about a year. According to my records (i.e. a post-it note), here’s what we read:

October 2008 – The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
November 2008 – On Beauty by Zadie Smith
January 2009 – Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
February 2009 – The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts; Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
March 2009 – Watchmen by Alan Moore
April 2009 – You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr
May 2009 – Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
July 2009 – Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
August 2009 – All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
September 2009 – Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

11 books total: 8 novels, 1 essay collection, 1 nonfiction, 1 graphic novel

In the spring of 2010 I moved from Brooklyn to Massachusetts. It took me a little while, but I found a book club again that fall, and have managed to keep it together, more on than off, since then. According to my records (i.e. a piece of yellow legal paper and, more recently, a google spreadsheet), here’s what we’ve read so far:

November 2010 – The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
December 2010 – Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
January 2011 – A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
February 2011 – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
March 2011 – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
May 2011 – Room by Emma Donoghue
June 2011 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
July 2011 – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
August 2011 – The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
September 2011 – Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
February/March 2012 – Bossypants by Tina Fey; Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling; Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
April/May 2012 – The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
August 2012 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
December 2012 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
January 2013 – Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
March 2013 – The Receptionist by Janet Groth
April/May 2013 – We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen
June 2013 – Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman
August 2013 – Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
September 2013 – Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
October 2013 – Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Nov 2013 – The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
January 2014 – Longbourn by Jo Baker
February 2014 – Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Andrew Scott Selby; The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser
March 2014 – Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings by Craig Brown
April 2014 – Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
May/June 2014 – Orlando by Virginia Woolf
July 2014 – The Haunting of Hill House and/or We Have Always Lived in the Castle and/or “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
August/September 2014 – Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
October 2014 – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
November 2014 – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
December 2014 – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
January 2015 – Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell
February/March 2015 – Breasts by Florence Williams
April 2015 – The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

37 books total: 28 novels, 10 nonfiction (including memoir), 1 short story, 2 repeat authors (Virginia Woolf and David Mitchell)

After this many years of book club experience – plus over a year of co-leading a book group in the library – I stand by my “What Makes a Good Book Club Book?” post from 2012. A book should have a little conflict or a central dilemma, be thought-provoking or eye-opening, prompt readers to consider the past, present, or future in a different light. Page count and availability are also important practical considerations.

Are you in a book club? What have been your favorite and least favorite books to discuss? Do you have tips for moderators or facilitators? Do you start with a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down? How do you choose what to read next? Leave a comment!

4 thoughts on “Book Club Books

  1. I agree completely with your criteria for a good book club. I joined mine about 4 years ago, and we meet every other month. Before each meeting, we read one fiction and one nonfiction book that we all voted on during a previous meeting (we schedule books two meetings in advance so our moderator can submit press releases for the club). We break from May to September and read four to five books during the hiatus. Sometimes whatever the library has chosen as the “Book Club in a Bag” offering is our go-to title; other times we suggest titles based on what’s been in the news or if we’ve read a great book on our own we’d like to discuss with the group.

    A highlight was when we read Defending Jacob by William Landay several months ago and we *still* talk about how great our discussion was — without giving too much away, there were several aspects of the novel that were ambiguous, so everyone formed her own theories and shared them with the group, which provoked a series of friendly arguments. One person revealed such an out-there-yet-plausible theory that some of us changed our minds about who the *SPOILER* killer was. It’s one of those books that stays with you!

    Our moderator is fantastic — she’s always ready with newspaper clippings, author bios, and fun facts to stimulate the discussion. And we always, always end up going off on tangents, but that’s part of the fun, too. Reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh sparked a discussion of members’ personal experiences with foster children, and Food Rules by Michael Pollan led to us recommending the best places to buy organic food nearby.

    Sounds like you’re reading some great titles, too — will check some of them out for possible recommendation to my club!

    • Thanks for this in-depth comment! I like the every-other-month, one fic and one nonfic title model, with reading over the summer hiatus. We don’t read mystery/suspense very much in our group, but maybe we’ll try Defending Jacob. I’ve discussed Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods, with a number of readers (though it was never an official book club pick), and loved hearing other people’s ideas about the unsolved piece of that mystery.

      I adored The Language of Flowers and can see how it would be a marvelous choice for a book discussion; same for Michael Pollan books, although there you run the risk of hearing the minutiae of everyone’s diet.

      I don’t do very much active moderating, perhaps I should collect more reviews and articles. Does your group have a set of discussion questions for each book or meeting?

      • We don’t have a set of questions ready. Sometimes if a book has them built into the back matter as a Reading Guide or whatever we’ll answer a few of those, but typically we start out with “So what did everyone think of the book?” and the conversation flows naturally from there.

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