Books and Book Clubs

In 2016 I worked with a Bookclub group to develop a list of possibilities that they might enjoy reading and discussing.  I couldn’t resist adding a few today (July 21, 2019).  I hope to create a more comprehensive list of favorites.

Contemporary Fiction:

Americanah by Chineau Achibe.  477 pages.  2013.  Experiences of a Nigerian immigrant to the United States.  Part love story, part coming of age, part mature success  story.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.298 pages. 2013.  Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  Lyrical coming of age first novel about the experiences of a young girl from Zimbabwe who immigrates to the United States. It reads like poetry.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison. 326 pages. 2013.  Nuanced psychological thriller.  Page turner, and an interesting study of a marriage gone awry.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  I can take dypstopian novels and I can leave them, but this one is set apart.  My husband read it first and said I had to read it, and he was right, I enjoyed it very much.

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton. 320 pages. 2014.  Some people relate better to friends and strangers than family.   The main character reminds me of my own indomitable grandmother, who also overcame hardships and was a bit difficult to deal with.

The Attack by Yasmina Khadra. 257 pages. 2007.  A prominent Palestinian surgeon working in Tel Aviv is shocked when his wife is implicated in a suicide bombing.  This same author has written a non-fiction book called Wolf Dreams about a young man who becomes mired in Islamic fundamentalism.

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet.  There is a lot in the press about how hard it is to be the first of your family to attend college, this book provides insight into  the pulls between cultures and the transforming possibilities of education.

Lighter Fiction: 

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel.  A satire about the possibilities of using social media.  Do you ever skype with people you love?  What if they died and you could access those skype calls to create new conversations?*

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.  Sarah was terrific at all she did and she did it. Between keeping up with her kids and their schedules and homework and her highly stressed job.  One day while trying to do one too many things she has a car accident that changes everything.  This books explores some of the stranger inner working of our brains, and how the brain can compensate for an injury.  For Sarah her brain would not process anything to her left, but filled in information so that Sarah was at first unaware of her disability.   Lisa Genova’s website.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova.  Joe O’Brien is a Boston cop.  Things start going a bit wonky for him and it isn’t tell his wife pressures him to see a doctor that he discovers he has a nuero-degenerative disorder, Huntingtons.  He and his family work through the coming changes while dealing with the genetic piece of the puzzle – each of his kids have to decide whether they will be tested for Huntingtons.

The Pleasure was Mine by Tommy Hayes.  272 pages. 2006. Beautifully written book looking back at a marriage.  Tommy Hayes father had Alzhiemers and this book is a gentle look at care-taking for someone you have loved who is suffering from this disease.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. 295 pages. Fun, laugh out loud. Made me think that all of us have a little bit of autistic tendencies.

Historical Fiction:

The Good Lord Bird  by James McBride.  In a twist  – a boy is mistaken for a girl, and keeps this disguise as he is caught up in John Browns abolitionist war against slavery.  National Book Award Winner.  James McBride came to national attention with his first work, The Color of Water.

Dream Lover  by Elizabeth Berg.  Historical fiction about author George Sands.  She was an amazing woman who was able, with the help of her inheritance and her talent to have more control over her life then most women of the time period.   The fact that she dressed like a man much of the time, but yet had affairs with prominent men of the day, including Frederick Chopin makes a hash of the strict gender mores of the time.

Euphoria by Lily King.  288 pages. 2015.  Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, this book explores the hardships of being an anthropologist in the 1930s in the Territory of New Guinea.

Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.  One of the best books I have read in the last five years.  It is about the invasion of  Chechnya by the Russians and the high cost to those who lived there.  It is a compelling but difficult read exploring the bounds of humanity and what we will do for those whom we love.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  864 pages. 1989. Republished 2010. Pulitzer Prize Winner 1989.  Western. This is one of those books that defies genre.  Given that it had been a mini-series on TV in the 90s my expectation were low.  I can see why it won the Pulitzer.  Great read. I still think about these characters and the choices that they made.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  Book Club Discussion Kit from Durham LibraryRandom House Teacher’s Guide.

Between the World and Me by TaNehisi Coates.  New York Times Book Review. List of Atlantic articles by Coates.  Jon Stewart interview with Coates – video.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. National Book Foundation Interview with the author.  A possible companion read is the The Orphan Master’s Son.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, an the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman.  Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Publisher Reading Guide.

A Glorious Defeat :  Mexico and It’s War with the United States by Timothy Henderson.  Reyna Grande (author of The Distance Between Us) recommended this book to me.  She is working on a new novel about the Mexcian American War.  This is a complicated time period and Henderson does a good and very readable narrative history.

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived by Karen Lindsay.  A revisionist look at the wives of of Henry VIII. Was Anne Boylen really a shrew and Anne of Cleves ugly?

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Meyer.  464 pages.  2016.

Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity by Sharon Moalem.  Historically certain medical conditions were advantageous in the face of other diseases, but now as people are living longer these conditions are creating their own problems.  Fascinating look at the cross section between history and our evolutionary physical bodies.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan  by Jenny Nordberg.  Life for women in Afghanistan is bleak, but for some, at least while they are young they experience the advantages of being male.  Written by a news journalist.

If Oceans were Ink:  An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran  by Carla Power.  352 pages.  2013.  Carla Power, an American journalist follows her friend,  Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi  a madrassah trained imam who  teaches at Oxford University in England,  through his life, including back to his home village in India to better understand the Quran and the Muslim faith.   Book Review   Title Peek

A Sense of the World:  How a Blind Man became History’s Greatest Traveler  by Jason Roberts.  Born in 1786 James Holman’s goal was to travel the world.  He was happiest going off on his own alone, where he didn’t speak the language.  During his incredible life he survived the frozen Siberia, hunted elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  342 pages. 2014.  Jacqueline Woodson is coming in April 12th 2016 to the Seattle Arts and Lectures.  This young adult book is a memoir of her life growing up in South Carolina.  Award winning author and this book is one of my favorites.

Infidel by Aayan Ali Hirsi.  Ali Hirsi’s life fascinated me.  Her perspective on the immigrant journey from Somali to the western world is very timely now.  She arrived in Amsterdam uneducated and alone.  With the help of the Dutch she became educated, then a member of the Dutch Parliament.  This all came tumbling down when it surfaced that she exaggerated her story to attain asylum in The Netherlands, and with the murder of her good friend Theo Van Gogh.  She is very much in the news as an advocate for the reform of Islam.  Here is an article from Salon from April 2015.  She has recently published another book Heretic.

Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Memoir about growing up black in America.  NPR Interview.  Coates is an acclaimed author and a current MacArthur Grant recepient.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Young Adult

The Fault in our Stars by John Green.  John Green is a phenomena.  He is a fairly prolific author of young adult books, he has created a  YouTube series called Crash Course in History.  I use his videos to help explain Copyright to our students.  The movie of this book is well worth watching.

Wonder by  R. J. Palacio.  322 pages.  2012. This book for a couple of months was the best selling book on Amazon, not the best selling children’s book, but the best selling book.  It is about a student with a cranio-facial abnormality and his school experiences.

Book Club Resources:

Reading Group Guides:  See what other book clubs are reading.  Over 4,000 reading guides.

Book Movement:  This website can be a one stop shop for book club organization and resources.  You can organize your book club, send out reminder emails to members, etc.  It does take a little time to set up.

Lit Lovers – Another resource that has information for book clubs, including author biographies, summary of the books, discussion questions and even recipes.

Publisher Sites – all the major publishers seem to have information and resources for bookclubs.  There is a lot of great information here, and suggestions, as well as some hype.  Penguin Book Club, Random House Reader’s Circle, Simon and Schuster Reading Group Guides. – take a look at the reading guide for Billy Collins, Aimless Love on the Random House site.

Library Reads – list of the top books month by month according to Public Librarians.

LARB, Los Angeles Review of Books.  Great resource for essays, interviews and book reviews.

50 Essential Historical Fiction Books, by Lily King.  Abe Books.  Interesting list.