40 great book club novels.

40 books to read with your book club: because it takes more than a great book to make a great book club novel.

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. 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.

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.

Book Club 101

Read a good book

I get bookish questions in my inbox all the time, and a frequent one is this: I want to form a book club but I have no idea where to start. 

I have thoughts, of course, but I was interested in a wider variety of opinions: I polled the MMD Facebook page and quizzed everyone I know offline about what makes a successful book club. These are their answers.

How to form a group

Everyone agrees that getting the right mix of people is key to book club success—with many saying it’s the most important factor—but that doesn’t mean you should start a book club with your closest friends: I was shocked at the number of book clubs that formed through meetup.com!

MMD members in successful book clubs found their groups through:

Meetup.com
• Emailing a broad list of friends and acquaintances
• Soliciting friends and acquaintances from a current group: a mom’s group, yoga class, coworkers
• Attending a meeting run by a local library, bookstore, church, or school

People join book clubs for different reasons: some people want to read new books, some people want to discuss their reading in-depth, some people just want to get out of the house. Happy book clubs made the group’s expectations clear from the beginning.

As for numbers, most of you keep your groups to ten people or less. More than ten (or even eight, according to some) gets unwieldy, and discussions can’t go as deep. But if you can’t gather eight people, don’t despair! Many successful groups began with two friends talking books over coffee—and they gradually added members over time.

Many libraries, bookstores, and community centers run their own book clubs. These clubs are typically run by an employee, who chooses the books. There are pros and cons to such groups: you don’t have to do any planning, but you don’t have much control, either.

If you’re lucky—and many of you are—your group will gel over time. Many of you said your book club members are now your closest friends—even if you started as strangers.

IKEA Borgsjo puffin classics close up

How to decide what to read

Successful groups have a systematic way to choose their books, but those systems vary considerably.

Some book clubs stick to a theme, always and forever: contemporary fiction, prize winners, “the classics.” Other clubs choose a theme for the year (books-into-movies, female authors, mysteries). Some clubs alternate between fiction and nonfiction, serious literature and not-so-serious. Some clubs have general guidelines: no romance, nothing over 600 pages, nothing published within the last ten years.

In some groups, a leader (or committee of leaders) pick the books, but most clubs let the members pick by various ways:

• Members take turns choosing the book, no questions asked.
• Members take turns: the member whose month it is selects several titles, and everyone else votes.
• Members each bring a suggestion and everyone votes.

Some book clubs pick all the books for the year at once; some go month-by-month. (After hearing all your book club stories, I recommend filling up the calendar well in advance.)

Clubs differ on their policies: some will only choose a book if no one has read it, so they can experience reading it for the first time together. Some clubs will only choose a book if someone has read it and can vouch for it.

Some book clubs gather to discuss whatever it is they happen to be reading; they don’t read the same book.

What makes a great book club novel? | Modern Mrs Darcy

How to have a great book club conversation

The most common conversation starter is “What did you think of the book?”—but it’s not a good one! A better conversation opener is more neutral, and won’t draw responses like “I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t.” Nancy Pearl’s favorite opening question to kick off a fruitful discussion is “What is the significance of the title?”

It’s worth noting that a great discussion starts with the right book—not just one that you think is amazing, but one that’s chosen for its ability to generate conversation. Great books don’t always make great book club novels. Great contenders are books that have ambiguous endings, interesting narrative structures, or unreliable narrators.

Many book clubs designate a leader to guide the conversation for each meeting. Some clubs rotate; some draw a name out of a hat. It’s that person’s job to transition the club from socializing to serious discussion, ask the opening questions, steer the conversation back when it goes off-track, and make sure no one dominates the conversation.

If you want specific titles, check out these 40 favorite book club novels.

open book

When and where to meet

Of all the contradictory information I collected, no one disagreed on this: a regular meeting time is essential. Some clubs gather every other week, but most stick to a monthly schedule. It’s crucial to schedule regular meetings, either with a set date (e.g., the fourth Thursday) or whenever the majority can attend.

Most of your book clubs meet at the members’ homes, rotating hostess duties. Food is also extremely important to most groups. Many of you streamline planning: whoever picked the book hosts and provides all the food. That makes for a big month for the host, but the rest of the year all you have to do is show up.

Other groups potluck or order takeout, or even meet in restaurants: no one has to get their home ready, and the restaurant itself guides the pacing of the discussion. (Socializing stops when you place your order; the discussion continues until the plates are cleared; the next meeting is discussed during dessert.)

Some groups meet in libraries and bookstores and coffee shops. (My local shops and libraries will reserve tables or rooms for your book group.)

My favorite offbeat example was the fair weather “walk and talk.” A small group can meet at the park and walk laps while discussing their book.

What has your book club experience been like? I’d love to hear your best tips, or lingering questions. (We have lots of readers who would be happy to help…)

98 hours later.

I do book round-ups fairly regularly on the blog, but I’ve never done a similar audiobook round-up before. The main reason is that “reading” a round-up’s worth of audiobooks requires many more hours than reading the same books on paper, or my Kindle.

Case in point: this collection of five audiobooks I completed plus one I abandoned after the first hour tally 98 hours of listening time. I didn’t spend quite that long: I typically bump my audiobooks up to 1.25 speed after the first hour, which means the time I spent tallied … er, less than that. Slightly. But not much.

I downloaded Americanah on December 31 and abandoned the final book last week. Here are my mini-reviews after nearly three months of listening:

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

by Betty Smith, performed by Katie Burton

51M7AOWQZxL._SL300_I finally read this book as a book my mom loves for the reading challenge. I loved this audio version: Burton brings the story to life with her wonderful voice and authentic (but thankfully limited) accents. Expect a few weird jazzy interludes. My only regret is that I waited so long to read it. A heartbreaking and beautiful coming of age story. 14 hrs and 55 mins.

FAITHFUL PLACE

by Tana French, performed by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Faithful PlaceThis was the last Dublin Murder Squad mystery on my TBR list. I was reluctant to try the audio: her books can be violent, and it’s easier to skip those with a hardback. Several of you assured me it wasn’t as bad as I feared, and you were right (though I did fast forward through a few scenes). I loved Reynolds’ narration for its perfect pacing and flawless accent. Definitely one of my favorite French novels. (Note: each book stands alone.) 16 hrs and 17 mins.

CALL THE MIDWIFE: A MEMOIR OF BIRTH, JOY, AND HARD TIMES

by Jennifer Worth, performed by Nicola Barber

51WeYodF+uL._SL300_Worth wrote her memoir in response to a challenge: could someone do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets? Her loving, detailed account of life in the East End slums of 1950s London is full of high drama: births and deaths, rickets and eclampsia, the workhouse and prostitution. Some of these stories are very hard to listen to (and never with kids in the car!), but they are uniformly good. Can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy. 12 hrs and 2 mins.

AMERICANAH

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, performed by Adjoa Andoh

51LSHLo5hcL._SL300_Friends raved to me about this book, but the description didn’t grab me. I bought it on a whim thanks to an Audible 2-for-1 sale and was hooked from page 1 (or whatever the audio equivalent is!). A rich, layered novel that works on many levels. This was great to do on audio: I never doubted my pronunciation of Nigerian names and places—something that makes me batty with a hardback. (I do share my reservations here.) 17 hrs and 28 mins.

MIDDLEMARCH

by George Eliot, performed by Juliet Stevenson

51TlUfPv7CL._SL300_This is a book I’ve been meaning to read forever: an Audible sale encouraged me to read it now. While it’s loooong, I’m so glad I read it (and not just because now I can see how many literary references I’ve been missing out on.) Juliet Stevenson was wonderful: now I understand all the reviews that say I will listen to anything she reads.  (While it’s available as a Whispersync deal on Amazon—and for just $2.99!—that version is performed by Kate Reading.) 35 hrs and 40 mins.

STARDUST

by Neil Gaiman, performed by the author

51bpHQYIblL._SL300_I’d heard that Neil Gaiman’s readings of his own books were simply wonderful, and I’ll admit I chose Stardust as my starting point because I loved the movie—despite the fact that I’d heard this was one instance where the movie is better than the book. One hour in, I’m abandoning the audiobook, despite the wonderful performance. The story just isn’t grabbing me. Also: now that I’ve listened to one hour of Stardust, I’m shocked that this is recommended as a children’s audiobook.  6 hrs and 27 mins.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books, and on the books YOU have been listening to lately. I converted to an annual plan on Audible so I have 16 credits waiting to be used—I need your suggestions!

P.S. All links go to Audible, where you can listen to a sample of the audiobook before buying. If you’re new to audiobooks, check out my (great big) beginner’s guide.

7 ways audiobooks enrich our homeschool experience (and preserve my voice and my sanity)

7 ways we use audiobooks to enrich our homeschool experience (and preserve my voice and my sanity)

Today I’m over at Simple Homeschool talking about how we use audiobooks in our homeschool. You don’t have to be a homeschooler to put these tips into practice (although I’d be surprised if you wanted to listen to history curriculum just because).

From the post:

love to read, and so far (knock on wood) we seem to be raising kids who love to read as well. Despite my love of reading actual paper books for myself, to my kids, and with my kids, over the past few years I’ve come to rely heavily on audiobooks in our homeschool.

We have four kids at four different grade levels, and using audiobooks helps preserve my voice (especially during spring allergy season) and my sanity (all the year round) when this introvert needs a break from the noise noise noise noise.

Aside from the obvious convenience factor of audiobooks, they bring a richness and depth to our literary experience that we couldn’t get any other way.

Read the rest at Simple Homeschool.

 For more on audiobooks here, check out:

The beginner’s great big guide to audiobooks.

40 favorite audiobooks (yours and mine)

40 favorite audiobooks for kids

Find the MMD homeschooling archives here.