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16 Best Book Club Books: From Classic to Contemporary

by Gloria Louden
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2020 has been a wild ride, and it’s not even over yet! Apart from the worldwide pandemic and other issues that hit the world population like a ton of bricks, some new books also hit the market. If you’re looking for the best book club books, you’ll be happy to hear that there are plenty of options.

Thank God for the relentlessness of writers. 2020 took a lot of things from everyone — handshakes, hugs, and the ability to go out without extensive prep being some of them — but at least it didn’t sabotage the literary muses. They are still out there, doing their good work and inspiring writers to create glorious pieces of art.

A lot of people are jumping on the book club bandwagon lately. They have more free time and no opportunities for socialization. It’s safe to say that this year has been quite an eye-opening experience.

Now, people see what bookworms always knew in their hearts — book clubs are the ultimate pastime. So, what are the best book club books this year?

16 Best Book Club Books in 2020

Best Book Club Books — New Releases

1. The Circus — Jonas Karlsson

Some book clubs like to play it safe and don’t stray too far from the beaten path. That means they read classics or books that they know all (or most) members will appreciate.

The Circus is not one of those books. However, that’s precisely what makes it one of the best book club books ever. A new release, this Kafkaesque suspense tale is a glorious mix of mystery and realism.

The Circus is one of those rare books that fully embrace the weirdness and quirkiness of its characters — and a lot of people can relate to that. Add in a bit of mystery and confusion, and you’ve got yourself a real masterpiece that will leave your book club feeling like they’ve been hit by a literary truck.

2. American Dirt — Jeanine Cummins

Cummins’ story captures the horrors, uncertainties, and sheer despair of emigrating from your homeland and will leave you in tears on more than one occasion.

As one of the best book club books this year, American Dirt is controversial. Back at the beginning of 2020, the entire book-reading community talked about little else. A work of fiction, American Dirt tells the story of fleeing Mexico to the United States through the lens of someone who has minimal experience with that particular hardship.

Still, the book is a good read. Plus, a bit of controversy might be just what your book club needs! At least that way, you know you’re in for a lengthy discussion.

3. The Mountains Sing — Que Mai Phan Nguyen

A multigenerational story about suffering and persevering, The Mountains Sing isn’t an easy read. However, it’s definitely worth it.

On the surface, this book seems to be about the Vietnam War and all its atrocities. It certainly portrays a brutal image of hardship, hunger, and war. It paints the picture of the catastrophic consequences of a changing society. And yet, it also shows its readers the beautiful strength of community and family.

At its core, this is a book about resilience and love. It’s also one that’s not that easy to forget.

4. Over the Top — Jonathan Van Ness

Jonathan Van Ness won over people’s hearts not that long ago. His charming personality and compassionate demeanor radiate off the pages of Over the Top.

Indeed an enjoyable read, this well-written book shows the hardships and brutalities Van Ness had to endure on his journey of becoming the lovable beacon of positivity people know him as today.

Over the Top is a story about a raw journey of self-love. That’s what it says in the title, and that’s definitely what the readers are getting.

Following someone’s story from rough beginnings to the beautiful culmination of self-acceptance is the perfect book club experience. How Jonathan came to be such an effervescent person is a story that will take your breath away.

Best Book Club Books — Contemporary Literature

5. Her Body and Other Parties — Carmen Maria Machado

Start your book club with a bang! Her Body and Other Parties is a book that simply doesn’t fit any molds. The perfect blend of fiction and realism, this harmonious union of horror and fabulism will be a sure hit at your next book club meeting.

Don’t let the fact that this is Machado’s literary debut sway you away from this masterpiece. This story collection, which tackles the reality of living life as a woman, contributes to the world’s latest refusal to sweep violence against women under the rug.

A master of humor, Machado manages to breathe life into topics that most stay away from. Each story in this collection is a humorous and chilling depiction of female reality.

Women rebelling against men controlling them, fighting unwanted attention, and fighting for their own autonomy might be age-old topics. Still, Machado approaches them in an unexpected, original, and sensual way.

6. Red at the Bone — Jacqueline Woodson

This tale about class differences and overcoming other people’s expectations is one of the most sought-after book club books.

Red at the Bone is a coming-of-age story that tackles difficult topics such as gentrification, status, identity, and class in a beautiful and enchanting way. Jumping back and forth between the present and the past, it tells the story of a young girl and her mother as well as the repercussions of their decisions and actions.

Woodson has a sharp, engaging style of writing that you and your book club mates will surely enjoy. Her story about Melody and her family is a riveting tale of how parenthood and the presumed expectations people have of it can alter everyone’s lives.

7. Such a Fun Age — Kiley Reid

The best book club books are the ones that allow you to reflect on both past and current events. In other words, the ideal books are the ones that have evergreen themes.

Unfortunately, in this current political climate, racial inequality and the power disparity between the races are still an issue. That’s why Such a Fun Age is a perfect choice for your next club meeting. It’s a book that follows the story of a white woman who has an unexpectedly scary eye-opening experience about racial inequality and prejudice.

That rings particularly true now, given everything that has been going on in North America in 2020. Due to that, Such a Fun Age is not only an excellent read but also another insight into the difficult and cutting topic that has been on everyone’s mind lately.

8. Educated: A Memoir — Tara Westover

What’s a list of the best book club books without a memoir in it? Westover’s memoir about her hard-earned education and the uphill battle she had to endure to get where she is now is a captivating page-turner.

Born in a family of doomsday preppers, Westover had to wait almost two decades before she saw the inside of a classroom. What’s more, she never even saw a doctor for the first seventeen years of her life.

These circumstances would cripple some people. Westover, however, chose to fight for her education. Her tale of a shielded life that pushed her on a journey of self-realization and self-invention is one of the best releases of the past decade.

Best Book Club Books — Classic Literature

9. To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee

You have probably read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point, but reading classics with your book club is a unique, wonderful experience. And if you didn’t have the time before to read this Great American novel, now is your chance.

You and your book club are likely to get engrossed in the story set in a small sleepy Southern town. This tale of human experience that’s deeply moving and dramatic, as well as extremely humorous and thoughtful, is the perfect book club read.

A seemingly simple story about a community in the South is also a great fit for all ages. The book’s message resonates as strongly as it did back in 1960 when it came out — do the right thing. At all costs, no matter how hard, everyone should always strive to do the right thing.

10. The Good Earth — Pearl Buck

How does a simple yet loving family handle the hard times when they hit? The Good Earth is a seemingly simple story that’s beautifully executed. Told by a Christian missionary in China, the book has universal relevance, and it’s relatable even today.

Although the book didn’t bring Buck a Nobel Prize, it didn’t go unnoticed. Buck had glorious observational skills that allowed her to tell a story about the daily lives of Chinese peasants. Peppered with universal human experiences as well as striking cultural differences, this book is definitely a must-read.

11. One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude manages to beautifully capture the almost irreconcilable conflict between people’s desire to be with their loved ones and their need for solitude. Márquez has a knack for witty and wicked smart descriptions that, at first, seem nonsensical. However, as you delve deeper into the book, the writer’s style and point start to magically unravel before you.

This story isn’t an easy read, and it probably won’t be universally loved by your book club. The plot, if one can call it that, is not easy to follow, and the book will require all your mental faculties.

Still, it is worth it because One Hundred Years of Solitude is an epic story about one family’s descent into madness and tragedy. Such works of art aren’t ever easy to digest, right?

12. Frankenstein — Mary Shelley

What Mary Shelley achieved at the age of eighteen is something most people strive for their entire lives. She was an innovator, creating an entirely new genre, and inspiring thousands of writers that came after her. The fact that she had to fight for her right to publish only makes this book easier to reach for.

Everyone knows this story. A mad scientist creates a monster while on the pursuit of scientific advances.

But although horror-like in nature, this is a book about the human experience. It beautifully explains what it means to be human. What’s more, it shows how compassion and understanding on the one hand and solitude and ostracization on the other can shape people into monsters.

Best Book Club Books — Contemporary Classics

13. The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini

As one of the most heartbreaking stories of this century, The Kite Runner depicts an unlikely friendship in the midst of a country that’s falling apart. Told over the course of thirty years, this book follows two boys and their adventures in turbulent times.

It deals with classic topics — friendship, betrayal, redemption, and love. It also poses the question of whether new generations have to be set in the ways of older generations.

A story about fathers and sons and the unshakable love between them, this book is a true page-turner.

14. My Brilliant Friend — Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend is one of the books that made a real boom in the past decade and even had a TV show made after it. It is another beautiful tale of an unlikely friendship that perseveres through the years.

As the readers follow the stories of two vastly different women who, despite their differences, remain loving friends, they also get a glimpse of the culture and community that shaped them. The times these two friends live in inevitably change, and so do the people around them, which is what this story is all about.

15. The Red Tent — Anita Diamant

While the Bible only hints at Dinah’s existence, The Red Tent gives us the complete story of her life and ancient womanhood. The only daughter of Jacob, Dinah tells the readers the story of her four mothers and how each of them shaped her into the woman she inevitably becomes.

A much-needed women’s perspective of the tales of Jacob, The Red Tent shows the entire existence of one woman who had little power in a man’s world but did her best with it. The socio-cultural issues that ancient women had to deal with resonate strongly even today; although womanhood has come a long way, the fight is still ongoing.

What makes this book an excellent read is Diamant’s rich storytelling and engaging style. It makes the readers feel for Dinah and experience her joys and sorrows intimately and vividly.

16. Middlesex — Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is a story about a person who, in his own words, was born twice — first as a girl and then, fourteen years later, as a boy. Still, this is a mesmerizing tale about more than just intersexuality.

Although that’s one of the main themes, Middlesex also tells the story of several generations of a Greek American family — their hardships and victories, secrets and lies, love and hate. As such, Middlesex is a breathtaking book, written in a witty, audacious voice that will make you want to read the entire thing in one sitting.

A Few Parting Words

Are you looking for something that will engage your entire book club and make for a fun discussion session? Well, one of these sixteen titles will surely be a great fit that your entire club will enjoy.

The best book club books are the ones that will stay on your mind and in your heart for a long while. Reading books is the best pastime, and doing it with other devoted readers is a delightful experience. So, pick one up now and go for it!

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