There’s nothing quite like a good book club discussion, is there? We’re turning the corner on six years together in Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. As of December 2021, we’ve read 125 books (selections + flight picks) together. (125!!!) That’s made for many memorable discussions over the years.
I have a soft spot for each and every one of those titles but of course I still have my favorites, the ones I still return to regularly.
I’ve long sung the praises of re-reading; I inevitably pick up something new each time I return to a book. And one of my criteria for choosing our Book Club selections is that they must be books I will happily read multiple times. That’s because I always read the book before selecting it, and I always read it again—at least once—just before our group discussion and/or author interview.
This month in Book Club, we decided to do something a little different to encourage re-reading and revisit some of our greatest hits. Instead of choosing one selection to read together, we’re offering a “choose your own adventure” plan for January. It proved nearly impossible to narrow it down but we chose six of our favorite reads from six years of Book Club, and are inviting our members to choose the book that suits them best right now to read and discuss together—whether they’re reading it for the first time or enjoying a re-read.
This month’s picks are tried and true, both crowd-pleasing and endlessly discussable. And, I’ll confess, we want to gently encourage our Book Clubbers to give re-reading a chance. Part of the fun of reading in community is learning together and I’m looking forward to hearing about what readers will learn from these favorite picks, whether they’re reading them for the first time or the dozenth.
Pulling together our January selections got me thinking about which other Book Club picks have incredible staying power, in addition to the six we’re re-reading this month. While it was incredibly hard to choose, this list is the result. I hope it encourages you to pick one (or two) for yourself, to re-read or encounter for the first time.
12 favorite Book Club selections that have stood the test of time
Opening line: "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist." In her third novel, Jones writes about the link between two African-American half sisters, one legitimate and one secret, only one of whom knows the other exists. That is, until the secret of their father's second marriage starts to force its way into the open. Rather than writing back-and-forth between two perspectives, the reader encounters almost all of one sister's point of view in the first half, followed by the other's. The result is an absorbing coming-of-age narrative wrapped in a complicated family novel. I already loved this book, but when we discussed it with author Tayari Jones in the MMD Book Club, my appreciation and enjoyment skyrocketed, as so often happens. I love to peel back all the layers of a good book. More info →
This YA novel is a crowd-pleaser; it's one of the books I most often recommend. When a girl-next-door type suddenly finds herself in an elite California prep school, she has to figure out how to navigate this new privileged world while still grieving her mother's death. When she gets an email from an unidentified boy who calls himself "Somebody Nobody" offering to be her spirit guide to her new school, she doesn't want to say yes—but she really needs his help. A sweet and fun teen romance, but also a pitch-perfect portrayal of the grieving process. I couldn't stop myself from cheering for Jessie as she put her life together again. More info →
I knew I had to read this when my husband (who beat me to it) couldn't stop sharing Cleave's well-turned sentences aloud, and even many years later, I still think about this book all the time. This tale of four young, warm, wise-cracking friends in wartime England is a standout in the WWII historical genre. Through their characters, Cleave throws issues of wartime morality, race, and class into sharp relief. This is for you if you love a great story and admire a beautifully-rendered, wry turn of phrase. Discussing this book with author Chris Cleave made me love the novel even more. More info →
One of the most recommended books on the What Should I Read Next podcast, this novel-in-stories tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. Chatting with the Divakaruni heightened my appreciation for the story and surprised me quite a bit: I never would have guessed at her sources of inspiration. More info →
Stradal’s novel-in-stories spans more than thirty years and takes us to half as many kitchens, introducing us to fancy chefs and Lutheran church ladies, portraying the food of a region and the unlikely threads that bind us, with a satisfying, full-circle ending. We got to talk with Stradal in MMD Book Club, and we asked a bunch of questions about his writing process, the structure of the novel, and his Midwestern ties. Gracious and charming, he revealed his literary inspirations and a sweet story about his grandmother. More info →
This was a hard read because of the content but so, so good. Backman's latest novel is set in a backwater Swedish town whose glory days are gone—except when it comes to hockey. In Beartown, hockey is everything, and the players on the boys' A-team have god-like status. But this isn't just a hockey story. One night after a huge win, the teens throw a raucous party to celebrate—and what happens there splinters the community. Part coming-of-age story, part community-in-crisis, completely fabulous. (And I don't care a bit about hockey, so that's saying something.) Heads up, readers: triggers abound. If you've read and enjoyed Backman in the past, you'll recognize his skillful prose, but not the tone: this novel bears none of the whimsy of his previous work. More info →
This is one of my my favorite rereads. Family stories are commonplace in fiction, but I love this one for its intricate plotting, nuanced characters, true-to-life feel, and ultimate hopefulness. This is the story of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared ... until an unexpected bit of news, twenty years old but newly discovered, threatens to unravel everything they've built together. If you want to hear me talk more about this story, told in interlocking scenes from different viewpoints, occurring between 1944 and 2016, it's the subject of One Great Book episode 8. More info →
A powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day. Audiobook lovers: Adjoa Andoh perfectly gives voice to the characters; her narration adds to the compulsively readable nature of this literary fiction debut. A highlight: Adebayo joined us from Nigeria to discuss her work. More info →
Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there’s a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. Britain was on its knees, but the people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson’s story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth’s gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine autelier’s workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss. Robson showed up to our Book Club discussion with wonderful show and tell, which I'll now always think of when I think about this book. More info →
This novel combines so many elements I love: it's a literary mystery, a book about books, a coming-of-age story, a tale of adventure and suspense and revenge. I recommended this on WSIRN episode 196 with Anudeep Reddy as a gateway fantasy novel for people who don't like fantasy. Creative and inventive and lots of fun, and a 2020 Hugo Awards Finalist. The narration by January LaVoy (yes, you read that right!) is mesmerizing. MMD Book Club got to chat with Alix, which was so fun. More info →
In this standalone novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, three women's lives become entangled over the course of Labor Day weekend, 1935, when the storm of the century slams into Key West. The story is told from three perspectives, that of three different women who seem to share little in common, but whose lives are about to intersect in ways no one could foresee. Helen is a Key West native, poor and pregnant, fleeing her abusive husband. Mirta is Cuban, newly married to a man she barely knows, and just beginning her honeymoon. And Elizabeth, who’s come south on a dangerous search for a long-lost loved one. A captivating novel about a little-known historical event. More info →
This incredible novel-in-verse won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Xiomara finds her voice as she pours her soul into her notebook. Every frustration, every harassment, every triumph and every secret is turned into a poem. When she gets invited to share her work in slam poetry club, Xiomara isn't sure if she can keep her passion secret from her strict family. But she soon learns that speaking up and living her truth is the only way to be fully herself. If "novel-in-verse" gives you pause because you don't love poetry, trust me: the audiobook version is AMAZING. We were thrilled that Acevedo read a few passages for us in Book Club when she joined us for an in-depth discussion. More info →
What Book Club selections have stood the test of time for you? Tell us in comments!