I was recently talking to some friends who are in wine clubs (read: book clubs) about the books that make the best book club picks. People’s tastes in books are all different, but that’s OK; each person’s pick doesn’t have cater to everyone. Rather, the best selections generate a lively debate, either because their controversy provokes discussion, their topic sheds light on a part of the world or lifestyle unknown to us, or their prose is layered with meaning and everyone’s individual views enrich the conversation.
Here are a few books that everyone agreed created a lively atmosphere in any book club and go well with a malbec. Not every book was universally loved, but each had something to offer.
by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Not even the bullet of a Taliban member’s gun could stop Malala Yousafzai from completing her education. Determined to fulfill her dreams, and with the encouragement of her parents, she fought for the right to go to school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. She has since become the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Why it makes a great book club pick: So often we watch the news, and see faceless violence, statistics, and fear. This book demonstrates the complexity of life in a war-torn country.
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson, and Kris Shepard
Twelve of Dr. King’s most famous, most moving, most thought-provoking speeches are gathered here, and bonus material includes commentaries by theologians and leaders. While the book is great, the audio edition includes the original recordings, and narration from the likes of Rosa Parks, Yolanda King, Ambassador George McGovern, and Senator Edward Kennedy.
Why it makes a great book club pick: King’s speeches, like his work, don’t just cover racial inequality, but social and economic inequality too. Everyone will leave with difficult thoughts, but it’s hard not to feel hopeful after listening to Dr. King.
And for fun, watch Dr. King tell a joke on The Tonight Show.
by David Foster Wallace
At moments licentious, at others tender hearted, and often both, the bulk of these short stories revolve around DFW’s imaginings of men’s relationships with and ideas about women. These meticulously crafted stories are like a trip through the labyrinth of David Foster Wallace’s brain. If you aren’t familiar with him, take a minute to read one of my favorite DFW pieces on Roger Federer in The New York Times: Federer as Religious Experience.
Why it makes a great book club pick: Much shorter and more digestible than Infinite Jest, this collection still oozes postmodernist longing while managing to be uproariously funny.
by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella
Dozens of pithy stories make up this fourth collection by mother-and-daughter team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. Tackling everything from jury duty, to dog-grooming, to the benefits of central air, nothing is too ridiculous, too taboo, or too mundane for these ladies.
Why it makes a great book club book: Laugh-out-loud funny, everyone will have a different favorite. The best jokes and anecdotes will be flying all night.
by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Bill O’Reilly’s presence on our cultural map. Here we meet him on neutral ground, discussing the assassination of President Lincoln. More like a fast-paced thriller than historical treatise, this book captures the imagination.
Why it makes a good book club pick: No doubt about it, this book is riveting. The conversation might stop there, but it also might go deeper, into the responsibility an author has to fact-check every small detail versus the author’s commitment to entertain, or whether or not the author has a broader agenda outside the narrative.
by Kathleen Kent
Kathleen Kent, a tenth-generation-descendant of the figures in this story, recounts the horrors of the Salem witch trials. This sweeping family saga, told through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, brings new life to an oft-told American tale.
Why it makes a good book club pick: With prose that’s gritty yet luscious, it’s easy to mark this one as the best book-club books you’ll read this year. But the dynamic characters and attention to detail are what will really hold the conversation.
by David Bezmogis
Part high literature, part political thriller, The Betrayers covers one pivotal day in the life of Israeli politician Baruch Kotler. When he fails to back down over the policies regarding the West Bank, his political enemies expose his affair, forcing him to flee to Yalta, where he runs into the man who sent him to the Gulag 40 years ago.
Why it makes a good book club pick: Baruch Kotler’s staunch principles are the stuff book club discussions feast upon. Everyone will be asking “Do you think he should have?” and “Why wouldn’t they?” and “Were you surprised when?”
Have a favorite book from your book club? Leave a suggestion or link to your review in the comments below.