The Best Book Club Books
A Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson
Izzy Poole is running out of options. She’s a poor, recent high school grad; her mother is dead, her father is a cold drunk, and the father of her baby just killed himself. When she receives an invitation from Dr. Preston Grind, an eccentric psychologist who had a troubled childhood himself, to join his communal parenting experiment, she reluctantly agrees. At the Infinite Family Project, ten babies will be raised by a commune of parents for 10 years in a state-of-the-art $200 million compound. While the children thrive, the parents struggle with the lack of privacy while living as test subjects. Book clubs will have a field day discussing exactly what makes and defines a family, as well as what life in such a community would be like.
To buy: $18; amazon.com.
The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
If your book club devoured Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, check out this well-researched historical fiction novel that follows three women (based on real people) throughout the course of World War II and its aftermath. Caroline Ferriday, a wealthy New Yorker, works at the French consulate, raising funds for orphans. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager whose decision to join the Resistance movement results in her being exiled to RavensbrÃ¼ck, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. There, she becomes a victim of German doctor Herta Oberheuser’s horrific medical experiments. Even after the war is over, the traumas of the conflict continue to haunt all three women as their stories intersect. While at times challenging to read, Kelly’s descriptions vividly evoke the horrors and atrocities of war, while also shedding light on the civilians who stepped up to help in the wake of destruction. Book clubs can also visit Kelly’s website for discussion questions and menu ideas.
To buy: $17; amazon.com.
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
No matter if you have a green thumb or can’t manage to keep a cactus alive, everyone can take something away from geobiologist Hope Jahren’s engrossing memoir. Proving her talent as both a scientist and a skilled writer, Jahren shares her journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota—where her love of science was sparked by playing in her physics-teacher dad’s laboratory—to an internationally renowned scientist and the winner of three Fulbright grants. Using the amazing power of plants to illustrate her own life (for example, she draws parallels between the challenges a sprouting seed faces in a harsh climate to her own perilous fight to gain ground in the sexist world of science), Jahren both teaches and inspires. She writes of the never-ending battle to get funding, the politics of science, and her struggle with anxiety and manic depression, including a harrowing chronicle of pregnancy and childbirth without medication. But at the heart of her memoir is her long-lasting friendship with her eccentric colleague and lab partner, Bill. It’s a rare story of true friendship unmarred by any sexual, will-they-won’t-they tension. From her scientific discoveries to her beautiful friendship with Bill, book clubs will have plenty to discuss.
To buy: $16.50; amazon.com.
My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
Does your group need a break from big, chunky reads? Try this slim novel from the incredible Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge). Meet Lucy Barton. She’s currently in the hospital recovering from an infection. One day she wakes to find her mother, from whom she has been estranged for many years, sitting beside her. For close to a week, Lucy and her mother gossip about the people from their hometown in rural Illinois as Lucy slowly relaxes into the comfort of her mother’s care. What they don’t discuss: Lucy’s childhood, which was marked by poverty and abuse, and Lucy’s budding success as a writer. With much left unsaid, there is a lot of room for discussion between you and your bibliophile friends. Plus, with Strout’s upcoming April release of Anything Is Possible, a follow-up novel featuring the supporting cast of the townspeople Lucy and her mother whisper about, there’s no better time to read My Name Is Lucy Barton.
To buy: $10; amazon.com.
The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner
If your book club is looking for a startling memoir, look no further than The Sound of Gravel. Wariner chronicles her childhood growing up in a small, fundamentalist Mormon colony in Mexico where men believe they are destined to be gods and women can only reach heaven through polygamy and bearing as many children as possible. Her mother’s fourth child and her father’s thirty-ninth, Wariner grew up in a general state of chaos. When she was just three months old, her father was murdered by his brother in a fight for power. After his death, Wariner’s mother, Kathy, becomes the second wife of a man named Lane, a violent man who abused Wariner and her stepsisters for years. When they retreat briefly to her grandparents’ home in California, Wariner sees a glimpse at a better life and gains the courage to, at age 15, break free with three younger sisters. Disturbing, powerful, and poignant, Wariner delivers a harrowing story of survival and taking the necessary risk of saving yourself.
To buy: $17; amazon.com.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
When Bert sees Beverly, it is love at first sight. It just so happens that they meet at the christening for Beverly’s second child, Franny... and they are both married. A stolen kiss sets in motion a series of events that changes the course of their two families forever. Spanning five decades, the Bel Canto author’s family drama explores how this chance encounter affects the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Patchett spends the most time with Franny, who, when in her 20s, begins a romance with the legendary author Leon Posen. Before long, her family’s saga becomes the inspiration for his wildly successful book, which impacts her siblings in different ways. Told with humor and a great deal of heart, Commonwealth explores the idea of who owns our stories and the inextricable ties that bind.
To buy: $17; amazon.com.
Here Comes the Sun, by Nichole Dennis-Benn
Margot will do what it takes to earn enough money to send her younger sister Thandi to school. While Thandi—perhaps the family’s only hope at upward mobility—dreams of being an artist, Margot is willing to start rumors, to blackmail, and to sell her body to the male guests at the hotel where she works in the fictional Jamaican town of River Bank. When a new resort comes to the poverty-stricken town, Margot sees the opportunity to change her life, even though she knows the resort will likely displace and destroy her community. Nicole Dennis-Benn deftly examines the sacrifices that come with breaking the cycles of history while tackling hard-hitting themes of race, class, and sexuality in post-colonial Jamaica in this stunning debut. Your book club meeting might run late the night you discuss this one.
To buy: $16.50; amazon.com.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is under house arrest. It’s 1922 in Moscow, and a Bolshevik tribunal has sentenced the aristocrat to live out his days in the Metropol hotel for writing a revolutionary poem. Though the count has lived in a grand apartment at the Metropol for years, he is sequestered to a small attic room where he looks out at the Kremlin each day. Forbidden to step outside, Rostov befriends the hotel’s talented chef, a French expatriate maÃ®tre d’, a beautiful actress, and a precocious nine-year-old, who opens his eyes not only to his current surroundings, but also to the world outside. Spanning 30 years, this remarkable work explores how human connection can transcend the darkness of history. With historical context and indelible characters, A Gentleman in Moscow will ensure an engaging night of conversation.
To buy: $16; amazon.com.