40 great book club novels.

40 great book club novels.

In Monday’s Book Club 101 post, we talked about how a fabulous book club discussion starts with the right book—and it takes more than a great book to make a great book club novel.

To gather this list of 40 book club favorites, I polled you on the MMD facebook page, asked you on twitter, and combed through your suggestions here. I also included some of my personal favorites.

These novels are packed with discussion fodder. This list contains old books, modern classics, contemporary fiction. You’ll find character-driven novels, novels that don’t resolve, novels with unreliable narrators. You’ll read about characters who were forced to make a life-changing decision, or an impossible one. You’ll read classics that you can’t believe you didn’t “get” in high school.

Many of these books tackle big—even uncomfortable—issues. Many are polarizing. All are “discussable”—you’ll have enough material to last all night long.

book club books

 

Classics

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Contemporary fiction

  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  2. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  5. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  7. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Contemporary literary fiction

  1. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
  2. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (2x)
  3. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  6. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  7. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  8. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  10. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  11. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  12. Lizzie’s War by Tim Farrington

Mystery

  1. Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers
  2. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  4. In the Woods by Tana French
  5. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Memoir

  1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
  2. Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
  3. Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
  4. Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan (good getting-to-know your group book)

Nonfiction

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  2. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
  3. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  4. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
  5. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
  6. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  7. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

What would you add to the list?

P.S. More of my favorite book club novels.

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67 comments

    • Lisa T says:

      Our book club has read three of these–The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Language of Flowers, and The Husband’s Secret. Our May selection is Girl on the Train.

      Oh, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was also one of our selections. 🙂

  1. MelissaJoy says:

    My book club typically reads 6 fiction and 6 non fiction in a given year. One of my favorite selections each April is the Newberry Award winner. It is a fun and very different kind of book for our group. We are all young mothers and this selection keeps us on the pulse of current children’s lit.

  2. Those are such great suggestions. I laugh whenever I see a reference to Year of Wonders b/c I lent it to a woman in my neighborhood I didn’t really know and never got it back. Think I need to move on from that little annoyance? 🙂 We read We Need to Talk About Kevin in my book club a few years ago, and it was definitely such a good book for discussion. I read We Were Liars over Christmas and thought it would be an excellent book club pick. For a couple additions, I’d say Where’d You Go Bernadette, Tell The Wolves I’m Home, and Euphoria. I might add The Doctor’s Wife, although I didn’t love it personally.

  3. Kelsey says:

    I love this list! I want to start a book club so badly, yet I’m not sure of the response I may get in my small town. I also wonder if this is a bad time of year (right before summer) to start one, or if it is the perfect time with a lot of people (i.e. teachers – since I am one!) having “more time” to read. Is anyone a part of an online book club that works well?

    • Cheryl says:

      Kelsey, you’re overthinking it…just do it. My neighborhood book club, which I started 10 years ago, is the most enjoyable activity I participate in. We’ve read books that I would otherwise never have picked up. Pure Joy!!

  4. Tim says:

    I’ve read almost none of those, Anne. But I’d say that Gaudy Night and The Hiding Place are two of the best books I’ve ever read.

  5. liz n. says:

    I’d suggest “Oryx and Crake” and “Madd Addam” along with “The Year of the Flood,” since it’s a trilogy. And because I am biased, since Margaret Atwood is one of my most favorite authors!

    “Five Days at Memorial” was fascinating, but I got way too involved when I read it! Forget emotional roller coaster; this one was an emotional marathon!

    “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” is actually two books away in my TBR stack. I haven’t read it before, but was told that if you liked “Falling Leaves,” “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” or Amy Tan, this one is along those lines, so I’m looking forward to it!

  6. Heather says:

    In my book club we have read four of the books mentioned. I would add Where’d You Go Bernadette, like the other members suggested. Another book that probably had the longest discussion from our group was Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn (not a typical book to pick and some gruesome details, but there was a lot to discuss). Lastly, the book The Circle by Dave Eggers was not well received in our book club, but there was a really good discussion about the book and technology and this book would come up in subsequent gatherings, which meant that it really did “stick” with many members.

  7. Dana says:

    Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
    Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos
    The Forgotten Garden By Kate Morton
    The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

    Absalom! Absalom! By William Faulkner
    Beloved By Toni Morrison
    King Lear By Shakespeare

    The last 3 books were read together as a study on tragedy in a group I was in a number of years ago. Powerful works that were not easy but the discussions were the best I have ever experienced. Beloved is a tough read but it is a book that stayed with me for a very long time.

    At another time we did a study of satire/irony and read Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland together.

    We also read A Secret Garden, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations together for the classic definition of “Romance” which is not a love story but the Hero’s Journey of transformation.

    I miss being in a book discussion group, but this sit is the next best thing!

  8. Jeannie says:

    This is a great list, Anne! My book club has done only a few of these: The Help, Gaudy Night, Year of Wonders, Peace Like a River, Purple Hibiscus, and The Poisonwood Bible. A few books that generated awesome discussion in our group were The Chosen (Chaim Potok), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), Atonement (Ian McEwen), The Sunflower (Simon Wiesenthal), and The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings (both by Sue Monk Kidd).

  9. I’ve been a part of some great book club discussions with these titles:

    The Color of Water – James McBride
    The Shell Seekers – Rosamunde Pilcher
    Rebecca – Daphne Dumaurier
    East of Eden – John Steinbeck
    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
    Surprised by Joy – C.S. Lewis
    Silence – Shusaku Endo
    The Road from Coorain – Jill Ker Conway
    Atonement – Ian McEwan
    The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
    The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
    The Kitchen Boy – Robert Alexander

  10. Sarah R says:

    I just tried reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum and couldn’t get into it. I must have been in a weird mood. I will have to try again!

    I’m not in a book club, but I would love to discuss All the Light We Cannot See with someone else who has read it. I also loved Lottery by Patricia Wood.

  11. Rebecca says:

    Love this list! I appreciate a mixture of old and new books. My book club tends to try new books and then we are all so far on the waiting list that we have to buy the book.

      • Anne says:

        These categories are VERY fluid. Loose definition: writing of literary merit, not just storytelling. (And even as I type this I’m cringing at the word “just.”) As distinguished (in broad strokes) from genre fiction.

  12. Carey Mitchell says:

    Great post! I’ve emailed your link out to our book club guest list along with your Book Club 101 post so that they can read it before our first meeting. Maybe we’ll want to select one book from each genre. We’ll see…this is a great list for us to start with, Anne. Thank you!

  13. Heather says:

    I was in a book club a long time ago, before children. I’m thinking about what it might take to start a book club, as I’m not aware of one in my area. Any recommendations on how to start a new book club?

  14. 'Becca says:

    I’m curious why you chose In the Woods rather than one of Tana French’s other books. The Likeness is my favorite–better plot and not so triggering.

    My suggestions:
    Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
    The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
    The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
    The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
    A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine
    The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris
    How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough
    The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
    The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

    • Anne says:

      These are great ones!

      I chose In the Woods because of the ending (or obvious lack thereof, depending on how you look at it). I enjoyed The Likeness much more—and I think it would also make a wonderful discussion—but I could talk about the end of In the Woods for hours.

  15. Lynn K says:

    The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
    Columbine by Dave Cullen
    March by Geraldine Brooks
    Airframe by Michael Crichton
    Deep End of the Ocean by Jaquelyn Mitchard
    Jewel by Bref Lott
    Little Children by Tom Perotta
    Life of Pi by Yann Martel was the longest discussion we ever had in our book club. There were just so many facets to discuss!

    Once we read Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. AND Forever, both by Judy Blume for a sprited discussion on how differently we looked at those books as moms/adults and it was especially fun with the single member in her 20s who had never experienced Judy Blume. (I am still, 10 years later, amazed that an American female could grow up without Judy Blume’s assistance.)

    • Anne says:

      I LOVE that you did Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever. Those sound like incredible discussions to have as an adult in a book club setting! Fabulous idea.

  16. Christine says:

    “The Sparrow” is my all time favorite book. So many people have never heard of it. Glad to see it on your list!

  17. Anita says:

    the Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. This emotionally powerful book really got our group talking. And, it made us re-read the Great Gatsby as our next book choice.

  18. Lee says:

    Love your lists. Has anyone read “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller. Could not put it down. I want to read it again. I wanted to see the ending so bad I think I missed out on the great writing style. Thanks. Lee

  19. Claire says:

    I would add another Mary Russell Doria book, Doc, about a year in the life of Doc Holliday. I got lost in that world and fell in love with Doc.

    • Jane says:

      I have read The Glass Castle in two different book clubs and thoroughly enjoyed the discussion each time. Powerful book.

    • May I suggest Ruth Rendell’s other books if you liked Barbara Vine’s book. They are the same person and Rendell’s books are so much better. Just my opinion. For some reason, the books that she writes under her own name are superb and the ones she writes under her pseudonym juts aren’t up to snuff.

      I would also like to recommend Lisa See’s books if you like Amy Tan.

    • I wish I had been in your book club. I read that book and although I thought the writing was good, I thought the book was a hoax. Having worked in social services almost my entire life, I found her stories completely incredulous. I guarantee you that she could never back any of them up with facts.

  20. Lisa D. says:

    Frustratingly good: Olive Kitteridge. Amazing discussions: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Gone Girl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, The Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Passion if Artemed

  21. Lisa D. says:

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Help, A Child Called It, Gone Girl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, The Prodigal Daughter, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel. Pie Society, The Red Tent, and frustratingly- Olive Kitteridge!

  22. Jane says:

    I loved The Bees by Laline Paull and think it would encourage a lot of discussion. I’m still trying to find someone to discuss it with and I read it a year ago. Lots of familiar books on these lists but new ones as well. TBR list keeps growing and growing and……………

  23. Stacy L Jardine says:

    Our book club just read “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. We had a fantastic discussion and everyone liked the book.

  24. Bonnie Crow says:

    Two of my book club’s favorite books: “The Rent Collector” by Camron Wright (truly amazing book!) and “Safe from the Sea” by Peter Geye!

  25. Mary Etter says:

    Our book club loved “The Nightingale” by Kirsten Hannah, “All The Light We Cannot See” , “The Orphan Train” “The Lake House” by Kate Morton, “The Life Intended”

  26. Barbara says:

    The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goldman (very good)
    Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. (levity)

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Fronte

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