I joined my first book club when I was in the second grade. My teacher pulled me and a few other students who’d already read through everything on the class library shelves and arranged for us to skip recess and talk about Matilda’s powers or Charlotte’s curly-tailed best friend. Now I’m in a number of book groups (fun fact: people in publishing will usually find any excuse to turn a social occasion into a chance to talk about what they’re reading), toasting with a very different kind of grape juice and even taking gatherings online. I participate in the long tweet book club, Facebook Live discussions, and one of my favorites, the monthly in-person meetups with the women I’ve met through the online newsletter Girls Night In. Considering how my whole life sometimes feels like a book club, I wanted to share a few of the best books to spark discussion.
Like most people, I read this astounding piece of investigative journalism and true crime reporting by the late Michelle McNamara only weeks before police announced they had its subject, the (until recently) unknown serial murderer who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s, known as "The Golden State Killer." It's a known cultural phenomenon that women are often drawn to stories of true crime. This was a surprisingly fantastic group read because not only did we share collective fear at all dangers lurking in the shadows, we were also blown away by McNamara's investigating.
I've read this novel three times. If that's not enough to make you go out right now and purchase your own colorful fruit-covered copy, at least suggest it for your next discussion. It's a gorgeous meditation on family, responsibilities, memory, and understanding one's place in life. When it was the subject of a Girls Night In evening, everyone brought their own insights of families, aging parents, and debilitating diseases, and we bonded over beautiful lines we'd each underlined.
This was a Girls Night In pick as well, and hearing readers' thoughts on this nonfiction celebration of women's friendship was fascinating. While the conversation would have been great among existing friends, hearing new stories and perspectives on the various kinds of relationships between women made this book club especially unique.
Another novel exploring a side of memory, disease, and family. We chose this fantastic story for one of our Off the Shelf Facebook Live discussions. It was a perfect pick because not only does the poignant writing offer a realistic look at a mind slowly losing its bearings, its sympathetic tone invites readers to explore their own awareness of how they look at people and what's important in their own lives. Warning: whoever is hosting the book club may need to stock up on tissues.
“My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and I was afraid of him because of it. I’m embarrassed and a little ashamed to admit that. When I read this, I started to understand how scared and frustrated someone with Alzheimer’s can feel. I believe this understanding is critical as we learn how to care, how to treat, and how to cure this insidious disease in modern times.” —Kevin Myers (Read Kevin’s review of Still Alice here.)
Although I have met with male friends to discuss novels, often many of my book clubs are made up of women readers. Everyone in my book club seemed both thrilled and shocked by the fictional world in which women gained physical power—and the discussion of the phenomenon's resulting political dynamics, violence, and global fallout made many of us return to our brothers, friends, boyfriends, and other men in our lives to urge them to read the book and get their feedback. Sign of a good book club title: wanting to go ask even more people to read and get their thoughts!