Let’s pretend for a minute there are two ways to respond to a book you’ve read.
A book can make you turn inward—to reflect, contemplate, mull over. For me, this looks like Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, or Marilynne Robinson.
Or a book can make you turn outward—to run to all your reading friends, saying, Have you read this? Because I need to talk about it NOW! These books beg to be talked about. For me, that looks like the books on this list.
(Of course, some books manage to do both. And other books provoke completely different reactions: some make you yawn, some books practically compel you to hurl them across the room. But we’ll save those topics for another day.)
What books have left you running to your reading friends, saying, Have you you read this? Tell us all about them in comments.
Alice is 29, expecting her first child, and crazy in love with her husband—or at least she thinks she is, but then she bumps her head and wakes up on the gym floor, to find that she’s actually a 39-year-old mother of 3 who’s in the middle of divorcing the man she’s come to hate. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her these past 10 years, or who she’s become. She’s about to find out. I inhaled this like it was chick lit, but it was surprisingly thought-provoking: I found myself mulling it over for weeks after I finished, and wanted to talk to fellow readers about the book, and non-reading friends about the themes inthe book—always a good sign. More info →
This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current. Suspenseful but not scary, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller. Discussion fodder: marriage, Manderley, and (she says with a shudder) Mrs. Danvers. More info →
This story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. (I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one.) Heads up, Reading Challenge players: this is a fantabulous pick for your immigrant story. More info →
Public shaming used to be a common punishment, but it was stopped long ago: not because it was ineffective, but because it was deemed far too cruel. But with the dawn of social media, public shaming is back in a big way, and it's being carried out by ordinary people. Ronson walks the reader through some recent examples of lives ruined over one public mistake: a fabricated quote in a book, one ill-considered tweet, one Facebook photo that went viral. This is one of the scariest books I've read in a long time, and I'm not saying that lightly. More info →
This is the first book French's popular Dublin Murder Squad, and it’s twisty and unpredictable. The story has two primary threads: one revolves around a psychopath, the other around a supernatural disturbance, and you'll want to talk about both. But the reason you'll NEED to find a fellow reader is to unpack that ending. More info →
I picked this one up when Michael Pollan raved about it, saying it “embodied the spirit of slow food and life.” Paterniti had me from the words Zingerman’s Delicatessen. The story artfully weaves itself right into the heart of Catelonian Spain, but then it becomes muddled and confused. The reader can decide if this is weakness, or metaphor. Discussion highlight: the ending. Is it an utter failure, or completely perfect? More info →
The first person perspective, extra-strength dose of creepy, and societal commentary make this novel extremely discussable. Set in a future where women have no control over their bodies, this is a staple of high school reading lists ... and banned books list. More info →
This is the story of the twenty-year relationship between a New York writer and a gentlemanly London bookseller, as told through their correspondence. A must-read for bibliophiles, and you'll feel compelled to discuss the heartwarming way books bring people together with all your book-loving buddies. More info →
I NEVER would have read this if a trusted bookseller hadn't pressed it into my hands and said READ IT: the plot summary would have made me put it right down. I went into this novel knowing nothing and I liked it that way, so I'll just say Wood explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guinness Book of World Records. (That means if you want to talk about it, you need a reading companion!) More info →
It's trendy these days for every suspense novel to have a "shocking plot twist!" but this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all, and THAT is what you'll be burning to talk about. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. (Sensitive themes ahead, so mind your triggers.) More info →
It's been highly recommended by my local booksellers and a few friends with good taste. But whoa, it was NOT what I was expecting! I was expecting a Very Serious Literary Book, and instead it *almost* read like YA. The narrator is Blue van Meer, a teenager who has been moving from town to town with her father ever since her mother died, accompanying him to each of his short-term professorial stints at tiny liberal arts colleges across the country. Her senior year of high school, her father declares they will spend the whole year in one place, and Blue falls in with an enigmatic teacher and a hand-picked group of students she's gathered around her. The whole book is strongly reminiscent of The Secret History, yet despite this I still didn't see that big left turn coming. More info →
In the early pages, two families fall apart. We spend the rest of the story examining how each of the family members put themselves back together after the break—or, in some cases, didn't. I would have read this just for Franny's storyline, and I would love to hear Patchett talk more about the inspiration for this particular character. A sad story, but a good one. Discussion-worthy themes: which characters you loved, which characters you hated, and boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. More info →
It begins with a bang, when all the lights go out; soon thereafter, civilization falls apart. In McCarthy's postapocalyptic tale, a nameless father and son take to the road, wandering through the burned landscape as they make their way towards the coast, though they're unsure what, if anything, awaits them there. Critics are already calling this 2007 Pulitzer winner McCarthy's masterpiece for its moving portrayal of familial love and tenderness against a backdrop of total devastation. (Although he has a new novel coming out this year, so he may not like that description.) More info →
What would you add to the list? Share your favorite discussion-worthy titles in comments!