With all the exciting books coming out every week, it can be easy to get distracted by the new and shiny. But just because a new book is available now doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your reading life or for your book club.
When it comes to book clubs, the backlist has a lot going for it. “Backlist” means “not newly published.” (New titles are referred to as “frontlist.”) Because backlist titles have been out for a while, it’s easier to get a sense of whether a book will make for good discussion and if it will work for your group. They also tend to have shorter wait times at the library and are less likely to be on backorder.
Even so, the dizzying array of backlist options can be overwhelming, so we turned to the team behind Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next and asked them for great book club recs that aren’t brand new.
We are a team of readers—hardly a meeting goes by without adding at least one book to our collective TBRs—with a variety of tastes and interests, so there’s something for everyone here. (If you want my book club picks, check out our upcoming selections for the MMD Book Club. We feature a mix of frontlist and backlist titles there.)
A text and dialogue rich graphic novel inspired by Arabian Nights. A girl weaves 100 tales for 100 nights to fend off the advances of a man she despises, with the hope of a future with her true love, her handmaiden Hero, once the 100 nights have passed. The stories are mythical, but still relatable and heart-wrenching in their focus on women's suffering, strength, and loyalty to each other. There's so many threads to tease out and discuss. More info →
Thoughtful and personal exploration of the life of the woman who wrote Goodnight Moon, with many passages from the personal journals she kept her entire life. Margaret Wise Brown completely reshaped publishing's approach to children's literature, introducing things we take for granted today, like sensory touch-and-feel books, read-along audio recordings, and books about abstract concepts like feelings or difficult subjects like death. You will never look at the Kid Lit section the same again after this book. More info →
Truly wonderful memoir from formidable Southern lady, attorney, & disability activist Harriet McBryde Johnson. It's beautiful, witty, and unlike any memoir you've read before — lots of opportunity for discussion and expanding worldviews. The first essay is about death, and the last essay is about pleasure, neither in ways you will expect. More info →
I adore this book. Tan's debut novel draws heavily from her own life and relationship with her mother. Told in shifting perspectives, we get stories from four mothers and four daughters, all navigating life in America as Chinese immigrants or the children of immigrants. The stories are tender, hopeful, and sometimes painful. Tan weaves intense Chinese history in between tales of modern, everyday concerns, and the effect is stunning. There's so much to talk about here: how our pasts influence future generations, how storytelling serves as a way to connect with each other, and how unspoken secrets and sentiments somehow manage to escape. More info →
The ambiguous nature of this moody and atmospheric novel makes for great book club conversation. Marin is alone, away at college on the opposite side of the country from her loved ones. She's staying on campus for winter break, and as a blizzard blankets the ground with snow, she reflects on the life she left behind. Overcome with grief, Marin waits for her best friend Mabel to visit, wondering if she and Mabel can repair their relationship and, perhaps, be more than friends. This book is about loneliness, and it's pretty heavy—but Lacour's beautiful writing and descriptions of the snowy weather, plus a hopeful ending, make for the perfect winter reading experience (though I'd recommend this book any time—I love it so). More info →
I listened to this audiobook over the course of two days because I could not stop. I had to know what happened, taking my dog for several extra walks as the book raced to a mind-blowing conclusion. Monday is missing, but no one seems to care but Claudia. She and Monday have been best friends since they were little, so when Monday doesn’t show up at school for several weeks, Claudia gets worried. Claudia investigates her friend's disappearance while dealing with her own struggles. Despite being an absolute page-turner, and targeted towards a younger audience, this thriller tackles important and timely topics that we should all be paying closer attention to. These themes are worthy of discussion, in addition to how Tiffany D. Jackson crafts the twists and turns. More info →
I loved this when I read it, but it didn't get terribly great reviews (although as we all know, good reviews aren't always an indicator of a great reading experience). But I felt vindicated when author Karen Joy Fowler won the PEN award for a later work and everyone came rushing back to read this "chick lit" with heft. Why this would be great for book clubs: Come on, book club is in the title! But ok ok, the real reason this would be great for discussion is the various men and women in the story are all at such different places in their life—young and old, married and single, new to Jane Austen and life-long lovers of her works. There's bound to be a character everyone relates to, and that can make for a great starting point in any book club discussion--what makes a character tick, why they made the choices they did, where they mirror the classic Austen characters, and so on. Plus, there's a movie, so you can make it a two-parter book club night! More info →
I'm on record as saying I'll read anything Ian McEwan writes. His stories are always thought-provoking and haunting. None more so than Machines Like Me. First of all, that cover. Second, you never quite know what's real and what's not with McEwan's narrators. The ambiguity always makes for a page-turner, and when one turns that final page, I always find myself wanting to start back at the beginning and read again to see what I missed. Why this would be great for book clubs: Talk about artificial intelligence. Need I say more? More info →
I binge read everything Acevedo has written last year (seemingly with the rest of the world), but this is my favorite of hers. Good luck reading this and not being hungry the whole time, but the good news is those would make for great book club snacks. How Acevedo packed this much depth into a book that's this much fun, I'll never know. Why this would be great for book clubs: so much to talk about... teen pregnancy, the college vs. trade debate, intergenerational relationships, class and travel. More info →
While reading this, I kept having to check and recheck myself to make sure this really was published in the 1960s. It's tragically timely. I read this in May, right around the gut-wrenching death of George Floyd and was utterly stopped in my tracks to read this line: "It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck...” This book is slim, but don't let its length fool you. Its heft comes when you find yourself still thinking of it days and months later. Why this would be great for book clubs: If your book club isn't one to shy away from hard discussions, there's plenty to talk about here. First published in 1963, there is so much to break down about concerning what progress has been made when it comes to civil rights, and sadly, how much is still the same. More info →
Empire Of Sand is a captivating fantasy novel with its Mughal-inspired world-building. Viewed as an outsider because of her Amrithi mother, Mehr chafes against her stepmother's restrictions and the expectation to marry. And yet, marry she must for Mehr has come to the attention of the Emperor's mystics and The Maha has declared she must marry Amun. Neither she nor Amun can decline and thus their relationship begins on rocky ground. But just because they have to obey doesn't mean they obey mindlessly. There is such rich symbolism and imagery throughout, largely due to the Amrithi's powerful rites where they dance. As Mehr learns more of the rites and the stories behind them, she recovers a piece of herself and her history and becomes a force to reckon with in the process. The way Mehr and Amun's relationship evolves is worth a closer look, as is the way they band together to face down The Maha. More info →
This is a lovely heartachingly good contemporary romance. Asher has one last chance to revive the Detroit gastro pub he started with his late husband. Tyler is among the new staff that Asher hires, hoping to save money for med school. The Detroit restaurant scene, as well as Asher and Tyler's differing experiences living there, offers an insightful glimpse into the problems the city faces and urban centers at large. The character growth was phenomenal, especially as Asher considers starting a relationship with Tyler and what this means for his grief over his husband's death. Identity, gentrification, loss...there’s so much that lends itself for discussion. More info →
The Nomeolvides women haven't been able to leave La Pradera in more than a century. The estate gardens enchant but they also hide a tragic legacy. If the women fall in love, their lovers disappear. But then one day, a boy appears, upending everything they know. Lush, evocative magical realism—I was stunned by the beauty of this story and its core messages about love, colonialism, complicity, and restitution. Anna-Marie McLemore writes such gorgeous prose. I adored the characters and, as a white cishet woman, really appreciated the ownvoices Latinx and queer representation. More info →
Yes, this is a big book for a book club but trust me. I inhaled the last 400 pages of this Dickensian literary fiction mystery. I had to know what would happen next! The relationship between gentry and servant can be fraught and even more so when one is running a con on the other. Maud and Susan are complex characters that beg a reaction, particularly when they did things with which I did not agree. And yet I understood why they reacted the way they did. Their relationship is so tenuous in places and runs the full gamut of emotions and I had no idea how it might end for them, particularly because literary fiction is not known for giving queer characters a Happily Ever After. Secrets and perceptions and hidden agendas. There are some truly striking twists and turns and I don’t want to say anything more than that Waters had my full attention. You are definitely going to want to talk about this once you're done. More info →
This is a heavy-hitter in the motherhood category and discusses what and who truly is a mother. Points to Alam for getting so many of these motherhood details right, even if, as Anne says, you would have preferred an 8-line edit. I must say, I read this in the middle of a very difficult phase of motherhood for me, and it was the first book about motherhood that I had read that was honest to me. I really felt seen. Perhaps those 8-lines helped with that? More info →
By now, everyone who has been around MMD for a while knows that I LOVED The Almost Sisters. But it also makes for a great conversation. Joshilyn (I love it so much, we are on a first-name basis), touches so many sensitive subjects (single motherhood, racial disparity, and the emotions that come with all these things) with grace and humor. I laughed and cried. Major points to her for addressing the incongruence and discussing the "two Souths". She was able to put into words my feelings about my Southern home. I have read a few more of her backlist and all of the ones that I have read would lead to interesting conversations. More info →
This starts with a seventeen-year-old girl in hiding and centers around four high school friends and members of a jazz group who are somehow connected to her disappearance. Years later, the friends’ lives cross paths again, bringing up old questions. There's lots to talk about here—friendship, secrets, second chances and lots of what-ifs. More info →
What backlist titles has your book club particularly enjoyed? Tell us in the comments section!