Like many of you, I’ve been in a book club for several years now. Our book club meets every other month, reads one or two selections, and discusses the book(s) for a little while and our personal lives for a long while. With six members, we each host once a year, often providing a dinner that connects with the book theme. For instance, a couple of books about Jews during the Holocaust got us to eat a delicious kosher meal at a nearby restaurant and two books set in Africa had us making suya meat on a stick and fried plantains.
From time to time, I am asked what books our club recommends. Well, we often disagree. Reviews can be mixed on various books. For instance, no matter how much anyone else in my book club liked it, I hated Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (See my post on that one.) And not everyone found The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as compelling as I did. But we have unanimously concurred on a few selections, and I readily recommend the following:
Bel Canto by Ann Padgett – A famous opera singer, a Japanese tycoon, and a group of diplomats gather for a party; soon after, a group of eighteen terrorists invade the home. A hostage crisis ensues in which author Padgett develops characters on both sides of the negotiations and brings together people who would otherwise never bond.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Told from the point of view of Death (yes, the Grim Reaper), this book chronicles the life of a young girl whose adoptive German parents struggle to put food on the table, to hide a Jewish man, and to keep clear of the Nazis taking over their country. Meanwhile, the young girl learns the value of books to help them through this horrible time in history.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – This is a murder mystery told from the perspective of an autistic 15 year old. Haddon does a wonderful job of dropping the reader into the mind of an autistic boy and showing the challenges he faces in making sense of his world, his family, and the false accusation that he has killed a neighbor’s dog.
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg – From the author who brought us Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, this is another tale of an unorthodox young lady in the South – this one being 11-year-old Daisy Fay Harper. Flagg takes us through Daisy Fay’s hilarious journey in the 1950’s toward a pageant title in her home state.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett – This novel takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s, where “the help” are African-American women hired to be housekeepers for privileged Caucasian women. Two women – one black, one white – are challenged to rise above their circumstances and shed light on the racially unbalanced and complicated relationships between society women and their hired help.
Hill Country: A Novel by Janice Woods Windle – Author Windle tells the story of her incredible grandmother, Laura Hoge Woods (1870-1966), who lived in the Hill Country of Texas. A formidable woman in any century, Laura survives an Indian attack, raises seven children, and interacts with prominent political figures of the day.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Politically tumultuous Afghanistan is the setting for the story of a wealthy businessman, his son, and his servant’s son. A single tragic event shapes the lives of those involved, as the Taliban is taking over the country. The servant’s son struggles to deal with the fallout of his country’s turmoil and his personal shortcomings.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – There may not be any women left in America who haven’t read this one, but it’s a love story extraordinaire. Henry and Clare are not star-crossed lovers, but time-crossed lovers. With Henry’s “Chrono Displacement Disorder,” they meet for brief periods of time and try to experience a lifetime of love in their fleeting moments.
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks – Somehow, reading a book about a 17th century plague doesn’t sound intriguing, but we all liked this one. This historical fiction novel describes an English town in Derbyshire struck by the plague and the choices families make as loved ones become sick and the healthy must decide whether to risk themselves to tend to the dying. Relationships are changed as the calamity unfolds.
Are you in a book club? If so, what books has your club read that you unanimously enjoyed? What must-read recommendations would you make to the rest of us?