This Tuesday’s Top Ten theme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is great picks for Book Clubs, a subject that is near and dear to my heart, since I’ve been in a book club for the past six years. My book club has read some of these, and the others are ones I either read before I joined, or books I’d love for us to read in the future. I really tried to stay away from obvious choices that may be in other bloggers’ top ten lists (The Help, for example, which I read and loved but so did a lot of people.) In my opinion, they have all the elements a great book should have: well-written, an original/quirky premise, emotional payoff, and fantastic characters. And crucial to any book club, these books are all discussion-worthy. Here are my top ten in no particular order:
The Secret History by Donna Tart, 1996. I have probably read this book about seven or eight times. It’s one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s a mystery and takes place at college in New England. The characters are super-smart Greek scholars, which makes them not only really interesting, but I also learned a lot, too. The atmospheric first-person narrative is the perfect way to tell this lush, dangerous, and seductive story.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, 2001. Another all-time favorite, Bel Canto takes place in an unnamed South American country in the house of the Vice President, where a lavish birthday party is being held for a Japanese businessman. A famous opera singer has been invited to perform for the crowd. Without warning, terrorists break in and take everyone hostage. This story does not go where you expect it to go, and to this day I have never read anything like it.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel, 2001. If you have not yet read Life of Pi, go read it now! Pi lives in India and his family runs a zoo. When his father decides to move the family to Canada, they set off on a cargo ship, along with many of their zoo animals who are headed to zoos in North America. Then the ship sinks, and Pi is stranded on a raft with some of the animals, including a Bengal tiger. This strange, dreamlike book will leave you wondering what is real and what is not.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave, 2008. My book club read this about a year ago, but it was disappointing for me because at our meeting, only two of us had actually read the book, and we tried to discuss it without spoiling it for those who hadn’t. It’s one of those books that holds a secret that must be discovered by reading the book. Horrific, brutal, wonderful, emotional. All these words describe Little Bee. Now, go start reading…
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 2006. This book is marketed as young adult, although in my humble opinion it should be required reading for every human on the planet. Liesel Meminger is the book thief of the title, and is a nine-year-old foster child living in Germany during World War II when the story begins. The book is narrated by Death, and although it may be hard to get into the slightly unusual style, don’t give up. Liesel’s friend Rudy is one of my ALL-TIME favorite characters from any book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot…
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, 1998. This is my only non-fiction offering, but it’s a good one. I don’t generally enjoy non-fiction, but being in a book club means that occasionally someone picks a non-fiction book. A Walk in the Woods is one such pick, and I fell in love with Bill Bryson after reading it. Bryson recounts his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, the characters he meets along the way, and his anticipation of running into a bear. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and oh so interesting.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, 2008. I read this book when it was first published, and now that I’m writing about it, all the emotions I felt reading it four years ago are rushing back. Edgar Sawtelle is a tale of survival, dogs, ghosts, and courage. It is a modern re-telling of Hamlet and it made me cry – a lot. I loved every word.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, 2011. Ava Bigtree lives with her decidedly odd family in the Florida Everglades, where they run Swamplandia!, an alligator wrestling theme park. Then Ava’s mother dies, her father leaves for the mainland on an errand and never comes back, and her brother Kiwi defects to the competition, and Ava must keep the park going herself. With only her older sister Ossie for company, a sister that claims to be in love with a ghost, Ava struggles to keep her family from going under. A sweet, quirky and wonderous story.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, 2011. I was trying to list books by ten different authors, but I can’t help myself. Ann Patchett is just too good, and State of Wonder deserves to be on this list with Bel Canto. This time she takes us into the Amazon jungle with a pharmaceutical researcher named Dr. Marina Singh, who is looking for a missing colleague. In the jungle she runs into all manner of dangerous and mysterious things, as she searches for answers. I loved this book for its unusual setting, and the science behind pharmaceutical research was fascinating.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, 2008. Based on a true story, People of the Book is a wonderful journey into the past history of a rare and famous book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the first Jewish volumes to be illuminated with images. As Hanna Heath begins to uncover its mysteries, she discovers clues within the book, including an insect wing and salt crystals. Brooks is a master storyteller, and the talent necessary to pull off such a sweeping story is mind-boggling.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from you.