Readers, there’s no way you could get me to choose a favorite book—but ask me about my favorite reading experience and I’ll tell you: I love a book that makes me run to my friends, my husband, or the Modern Mrs. Darcy team and say, “I HAVE to talk about this with someone!”
Today, I’m sharing a whole list of books that sparked wonderful discussions and remain favorites to this day. With complex characters, timely themes, and surprising endings, these thought-provoking books will fuel hours of literary conversation.
If you’re looking for more titles for your TBR list—or your neighborhood book club—I have good news: this collection of conversation-starting titles is a special preview. You can find more specially curated book lists in My Reading Life: A Book Journal.
I designed this reading journal with you in mind: the readers who know that a vibrant reading life can enrich the rest of our lives as well.
In addition to plenty of room to record what you’ve read and what you’d love to read next, it holds twenty-five book lists that feature titles from a diverse assortment of authors, genres, themes, and more, as well as seasonal reading suggestions.
I’ve also included special pages with inspiring and smile-making literary quotes plus tips for enhancing your reading experiences you’ll refer to often, like the helpful list of ten questions that work for every book discussion that complement today’s list of wonderfully discussable books. (Look close at the top photo to see what I’m talking about.)
This book journal is sleek, compact, and lays flat while writing in it—perfect for taking on the go to the library, bookstore, or your next book club gathering.
I hope you’re interested in My Reading Life: A Book Journal. And I hope you find a highly discussable novel, short story collection, or memoir you can’t wait to discuss on today’s list.
20 highly discussable books to spark great conversation in your buddy reads and book clubs
I can't stop recommending this contemplative and wistful novel because no matter how many times I read it, I'm always ready to turn around and discuss it with a friend. Hannah's second husband Nathan Coulter (her first died in the war) was reticent to talk about his experience in the Battle of Okinawa. "Ignorant boys, killing each other," is all he would say. In this atmospheric novel, an older Hannah looks back on her life and reflects on what she has lost, and those she has loved. Her recollections paint a vivid portrait of a complicated, loving family. I adore Berry, who writes gorgeous, thoughtful, piercing novels, and this is one of his finest. More info →
If you enjoyed Summer Reading Guide selection Sparks Like Stars, don't miss Hashimi's rich backlist. In this highly discussable novel, she tells the stories of two women who are separated by centuries but share nearly identical circumstances. In 2007 Kabul, Rahima takes part in an ancient custom that allows her to leave the house dressed as a boy, affording her the opportunity to go to school and care for her sisters as a firstborn son would. Without the support of their father, this is the best option for Rahima and her family. Little does she know, her great-aunt Shekiba lived in much the same way. Stunned by Hashimi's storytelling, and moved by the resilience of her characters, I couldn't wait to talk about this novel once I finished. More info →
Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club community manager Ginger Horton snuck this in as a favorite in WSIRN Episode 283: Don’t save the good stuff, citing its still-relevant themes. History buffs might know that 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. Whether you stay far away from social media or keep up with Twitter on a daily basis, you'll have something to share at your next book club meeting when you choose this thought-provoking nonfiction book. More info →
Every time I talk about unputdownable stories or books to read in one sitting, someone always mentions The Light Between Oceans. With a gripping premise and an ending that's sure to provoke contrasting opinions among readers, this book makes an excellent book club pick. Tom and Isabel live alone on Janus Rock, keeping the lighthouse. After two miscarriages and one stillbirth, all on the isolated island, Isabel is despondent. When a boat holding a dead man and a crying baby washes ashore, Isabel persuades Tom to leave the discovery out of his log and eventually adopts the child as her own. But when they visit the shore and its nearby community two years later ... you can imagine what might happen. More info →
Lesser-known historical—and in this case, biblical—characters make for vibrant book discussions. There's so much to speculate about, so much to interpret! In the book of Genesis, Dinah is the only surviving daughter of Leah and Jacob. She's a minor character in the Bible, but The Red Tent is her life story: Diamant interweaves characters from the biblical narrative with those of her own invention to vividly portray what it was like to live in those times, with a strong emphasis on the relationships between the women. Stirring, imaginative, and atmospheric. More info →
In an age when every suspense novel boasts of a "shocking plot twist!" this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop delivers exactly that, 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; cautious readers would be well-served to peruse reviews for content warnings before picking this up.) More info →
Hear Jeremy Anderberg recommend this moving, and "life changing" memoir in WSIRN Episode 282: I’m a little bit obsessed with reading. Kalanithi is nearing the end of his long and arduous training in neurosurgery when he receives his own terminal cancer diagnosis, and the role reversal is immediate: suddenly he's the patient, not the doctor. This is the book he wrote after his diagnosis: he'd always dreamed of writing a book "one day," and when his own timeline was dramatically shortened, he got to work. He didn't quite finish: one of the best parts of the book is the moving epilogue written by his widow. Bring your tissues to book club, and be prepared for a deep and meaningful discussion. More info →
The book talk began when my husband couldn't stop sharing Cleave's well-turned sentences aloud with me, continued in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and revived this summer when members returned to their backlist favorites. This tale of four young, warm, wise-cracking friends in wartime England is a standout among WWII novels. Cleave's writing perfectly matches the story, and it all feels so real—maybe because Cleave based his novel on his own grandparents' experiences, or because he put himself on war rations while writing to better experience London during the Blitz? There's a sequel on the way (working title: Everything Sad Is Forgotten), and however long I have to wait, it will be worth it. 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 author for the MMD Book Club only heightened my appreciation for the story. Listen to One Great Book Volume IV Book 3 to hear more about this wonderful, beautiful, and sad book. More info →
Readers who love this under-the-radar literary debut really love it. If you know one of these enthusiasts, take the opportunity to start a buddy read for an emotional reading experience and rich discussion. In 1987, lonesome fourteen-year-old June Elbus finds solace in the company of her uncle, famous painter Finn Weiss. When he unexpectedly passes away, June is left reeling, but the gift of a beautiful teapot from her uncle's mysterious acquaintance leads to a surprising and sweet friendship. This coming of age novel explores grief and growing up in a beautifully written (and tear-inducing) tale. More info →
Yes, short story collections make for incredible book discussions! "Which story was your favorite?" is a fabulous opening topic (in this case, I love the first story, "A Temporary Matter"). In this Pulitzer-winning collection, Lahiri's characters tenuously navigate the divide between their old world and their new, and taken together, the collection highlights myriad aspects of the immigrant experience. Evocative, bittersweet, and lyrical—Lahiri's gift is to turn ordinary experiences into moments fraught with meaning. More info →
Filled with secrets, drama, and a complicated family story, this novel has everything for a great book club discussion. In 2007 Manhattan, two families' lives become intertwined. The first family is that of immigrants from Cameroon: a dishwasher, his wife, and their young son. Their lives are changed when the husband scores a job as a chauffeur for the second family, wealthy members of the 1%. But in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, there's plenty of trouble to go around for both families. A commentary on the American Dream and a high-stakes drama; this book can be shelved among other compulsively readable literary favorites. More info →
Your book club (or book buddy) will definitely want to hear this backstory. When Georgia Hunter started getting curious about her family history, a few questions put to the right relatives uncovered something she didn’t expect: a sweeping multi-generational drama just begging to be written down—and so she did. Told over the span of six years, the story follows the Jewish Kurc family as they face exile, escape death, and struggle to survive during WWII. While the war scatters the siblings across the globe, they never give up the hope of one day being reunited. To hear more about Hunter's writing experience, listen to WSIRN Episode 157: The stories behind the stories we love to read. More info →
Who doesn't love a small town drama? This Pulitzer prize winner provides ample opportunity for discussion and reflection, and a little bit of bookish gossip. Retired schoolteacher Olive is not keen about the way her small Maine town is changing. Through a series of interconnected short stories, we get to know Olive’s family and some of the townspeople as they each grapple with their respective problems, including infidelity, suicide, eating disorders, domestic violence, and more. This may sound like a dismal collection but each story is written with care and offers some hope as Olive comes to have a better, more honest understanding of herself and those around her. More info →
I didn't think I'd be interested in reading a novel set during the Bubonic Plague, even before experiencing our current pandemic, but this richly detailed account of one woman's mission to save lives and hold her village together captivated me. Anna Frith works as a housemaid, but when an infected piece of cloth arrives in her remote English village and quickly infects her neighbors, she turns to heroic acts of healing, survival, and love. Inspired by a true story, this novel holds plenty for readers to discuss, including a rather shocking ending. More info →
This is a book you'll need to discuss once you're finished, but be prepared for a lively debate among your fellow readers. Roy and Celestial are young, middle-class, in love, and "on the come-up," as Roy likes to put it. But only 18 months into their marriage, Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison—for a crime he didn't commit. Roy needs Celestial behind him if he is to survive. She needs to cut him loose if she is to do the same. In his letters, Roy writes, "I'm innocent." But Celestial tells him, "I'm innocent, too." If everyone is innocent, where does the fault lie? This is very much a book about mass incarceration—and it's no coincidence that Roy is arrested, tried, and imprisoned in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration, with a 4:1 ratio of black prisoners to white—but there's little talk of "issues" in this book. Instead, this is a love story, though one gone horribly and irreversibly wrong. More info →
This was a tough read emotionally, but such a good one. Whitehead brings Jim Crow-era Florida to life through the real story of a reform school in Tallahassee that claimed to rehabilitate delinquent boys and instead abused and terrorized them for over one hundred years. Elwood Curtis is bound for a local black college when an innocent mistake lands him at The Nickel Academy instead. Elwood finds comfort in Dr. Martin Luther King's words and holds to his ideals, whereas his friend Turner believes the world is crooked so you have to scheme to survive. All this leads to a decision with harrowing repercussions for their respective fates. More info →
After Deacon King Kong made its way onto my favorite audiobooks of 2020, I wanted to experience more of James McBride's backlist right away. This collection of short stories showcases his ability to create memorable characters and communities. Four of the stories feature members of the Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band, while others explore the lives of unique narrators. Mixing humor, warmth, and a literary style to great effect, this collection is ripe for bookish conversation. More info →
While many readers are most familiar with George Saunders' 2017 Booker prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo, he's built a reputation in the literary world for his remarkable short stories. In this accessible, insightful collection, characters are faced with difficult decisions, second chances, and unintended consequences. For bookworms who want to dig deeper in their literary discussions, Saunders provides a vehicle to investigate life's big questions, like "what makes us human?" More info →
This book had me turning to each bookish friend asking "have you read this?" because I needed to talk about it, right away. 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. Many already consider this 2007 Pulitzer winner an American classic for its moving portrayal of familial love and tenderness against a backdrop of total devastation. More info →
What are some of your most memorable books to discuss? Do you have a favorite discussion question to get the book talk going? Let us know in the comments.