“We’re looking for a book club book, but nothing depressing.”
It’s one of my least favorite reader’s advisory requests, but it’s pretty common. It turns out that most books worth talking about cover some pretty heavy topics. Conflict is what drives a story along and there’s not much to discuss when the characters are happy and well adjusted, except maybe how much you hate them.
To put a twist in things, I’ve been part of such a book club. My friends and I started a book club a few years ago, which was really just an excuse for getting together and having dinner and drinks. After the first year, which included Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and Room by Emma Donahue, the members decided that kidnapped children and sociopaths did not jive with our girls’ night vibe. We tried some other options, but school and life got in the way and the book club went by the wayside. Recently, we’ve decided to revive it, but with the political climate, they’re clamoring for feminist fiction. Our first book is The Handmaid’s Tale, so, y’know… Not light. However, there’s still a lot of people in a similar position, so here are some suggestions for a low-key book club.
Graphic Novels – Here’s my most important rule. If it’s easy enough (and over fast enough) it can include some depressing content. Reluctant book club members don’t want to struggle through Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, but Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is manageable. They’re also great for last minute readers since you can usually finish them in one or two sittings.
- Pride of Bagdhad by Brian K. Vaughn
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- March by John Lewis
Short Stories – Collections of short stories are great for several reasons. First, we have the whole short thing going on like the graphic novels. The other bonus is that no one has to read the whole collection in order to have a productive discussion. Members can end up recommending their favorite stories to others that may not have read them. Whether it’s a high concept collection or something more literary there will definitely be something to talk about.
- Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
- Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
- Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
- Machine of Death by Ryan North
YA Books YA is huge among all ages. The books are fodder for Hollywood and their designation makes them less intimidating. I swear, if you told people War and Peace was a YA title, they’d immediately think “Yeah, I think I can handle that”. If you’re me and really just want to get people to read more, you can also get them hooked on a series they might continue with when everyone’s moved on to the next selection.
- Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Books to Movies / TV – This is a perennial favorite of book clubs and I’m not breaking any ground by suggesting it, but there’s a reason they’re popular. Once you tell someone they’re making a book into a movie, they, almost without exception, perk up. It’s not that they’re lazy and want to skip the book. People just love comparing the written word to the visuals. It gives them an extra topic of discussion as well as another activity to do with their book group friends. I think it also helps them feel a little superior to other movie watchers and that’s never a bad thing.
- The Gunslinger by Stephen King
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
- Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My last rule is to try and keep things under 350 pages unless everyone’s pretty stoked about it. Adults being assigned a book are worse than 6th graders with their attention to page count. Under 300 is even better. And suggest audiobooks as well. Reluctant, if optimistic, readers can often be convinced if their commute is long enough and the narrator is good enough.
What books are you guys reading? And any suggestions for reluctant book club attendees?