9 BOOK CLUB PICKS THAT WON’T FAIL
Picking a book club title could be tricky business. Not only is the average book club member opinionated, but the opinion could be divided, and if as the club organiser, if you pick your own favourites, you may not go down well with your members. Often a good bet is to pick books that have been successful as ‘book club’ books in the past at other places in the world, so that you can play safe for a while. After everyone’s comfortable, you can always experiment with risky choices.
So here’s a list of books that won’t fail as book club picks.
1. The Story of Land and Sea – Katy Simpson Smith
This is a novel by a debut author, but doesn’t read like one. Set in the era of the Revolutionary War, it tells the story of a single father who wants to cure his daughter, Tabitha, of yellow fever by taking her out to sea. The book is riddled with flashbacks to the time before Tab’s mother died in childbirth, and at once it’s moving, relatable, and immersed in the time in which it is set. The novel accomplishes the task of both being true to its space and time and also to be relevant to a contemporary audience.
2. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Death and grief plays a pivotal part in this debut offering by Celeste Ng as well, where the eldest daughter of a biracial family passes away, and the family must deal with the trauma. A lot of issues get dealt with in the process: Asian-American stereotypes, parental pressures, and various means of coping with grief. The family comes undone one painful strand at a time, and it’s a deeply emotional experience watching it page after page as character turns on – and finally, away – from one another.
3. The Round House – Louise Erdrich
Thirteen year old Joe decides to track down the details of the brutal crime in which his mother had been killed, near a round house on a sacred portion of an Indian reservation. While his father turns to the law for meaning, Joe seeks explanations that cannot always be quantified. A National Book Award winner, this will keep you on your toes as you follow Joe on his quest. Once again, death and ways of dealing with it are primary themes, but there will be a lot of secondary themes that will crop up during your reading. Enjoy!
4. Land of Love and Drowning – Tiphanie Yanique
After their father, Captain Owen Arthur Bradshaw, drowns in a shipwreck, three children are left to pick up the pieces. Yanique’s novel shifts between their intertwined narratives, occasionally adding commentary from an omniscient narrator. A unique contribution to the canon of Caribbean literature, Land of Love and Drowning indirectly discusses familial relations and the Westernisation of the modern world. A sharp, incisive look on family and its meaning as seen from different family members. It once again holds up a mirror to the fact that no two of us see the same thing the same way.
5. Lucky Us – Amy Bloom
This is a work of historical fiction at first glance, set in the World War 2 era, but on deeper reading, there are themes of modern American culture such as consumerism, the chase for relentless growth, and the value placed on constant innovation and change. We see the world through the eyes of two sisters, Eva and Iris, one a bookworm, the other an outspoken actress. They travel together, they write letters to each other, they have relationships, and between the two of them, they give the reader a sensual image of Hollywood and Brooklyn in those days. Must read.
6. The Empathy Exams – Leslie Jamison
The first nonfiction work in this list, Leslie Jamison uses her experience as a medical doctor to look at the wider issue of empathy in a novel, more objective way. Her personal narrative is imbued with her own astute observations, and overall the book makes a wonderful account that calls into question the changing nature and value of female pain.
7. Neverhome – Laird Hunt
Another Civil War novel, but fresh in its moving account of Ash Thompson, who disguises herself as a man and enlists in the Union Army. The motivations are not clear at the beginning, but as they come into the fore bit by bit, the reader is drawn inward into this world of deep nostalgia, from the eyes and heart of Ash, who leaves behind a husband and a home. Quick and compelling writing.
8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo
Behind the Beautiful Forevers may be Katherine Boo’s first book, but it’s certainly not her first foray into covering disadvantaged communities and societal rifts between rich and poor — she’s won a Pulitzer and a MacArthur grant for her journalistic work. This book is the result of the three years she’s spent in and out of India, surveying a heartbreaking settlement staked out near swanky hotels in Mumbai. No other city in the world is as contradictory as Mumbai when it comes to the chasm between the rich and the poor. Katherine Boo brings this to life with remarkable alacrity.
9. Bark – Lorrie Moore
Bark is not Lorrie Moore’s wittiest book – Birds of America wears that crown – but it does serve up many discussion-worthy points, and does so in a humorous way. From divorce to Iraq involvement, this book has it all. And there are plenty of quiet, hopeful moments for readers to savour amid the emotional tumult.