Great Books for Book Groups
Looking for suggestions of books that are great for your next book club meeting? Here are some that we here at Main Point Books think would make for great reading and fruitful discussions.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Picked as our book of the month club offering for February, and by Oprah for hers, An American Marriage is a novel that grabs and sustains any reader’s interest. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into their life together, they are separated when Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. An American Marriage does not focus on our failed legal system or how black men are treated in this country, but rather on the effects that life can have on a marriage – creating a perhaps more universal story. We are glad to share that An American Marriage has been selected as the 2018 One Book, One Lower Merion Read. Tayari will speak at the Ardmore Township building on Sunday, November 4th at 2pm.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Asymmetry tells two seemingly unconnected stories. In New York, Alice, a young editor, begins an affair with Ezra Blazer, a world-famous, much older writer (channeling Halliday’s own experience of her affair with Phillip Roth). At Heathrow airport, Amar, an Iraqi-American economist on route to Kurdistan, finds himself detained for the weekend in London. Asymmetry explores the inequalities of both love and war. It asks the questions -- can any of us escape our own perspective? What are the risks, if we do not? What is art for, and how do we fit our lives around it? Asymmetry does not pretend to answer all of its questions but it makes us feel smarter for asking them. This is a book group book that will lead to lively discussion some feeling it is the best book they read this year, others? Maybe not.
American by Day by Derek Miller
How does the rest of the world perceive the United States? According to Norwegian Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, it’s weird. Forced to actually leave Norway at the behest of her father to find her brother, who is implicated in the death of his lover, an American academic working on race relations, Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life. Working with—or, if necessary, against—the police, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the backwoods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further.
Refreshingly funny, slyly perceptive, American by Day will entertain and prompt rich discussions of the evolving nature of race relations. Set in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, it’s themes are ever more relevant today.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
There are erotic stories featured in this novel, and they are dirty, but don’t let the title fool you. Through the growing involvement of a young woman of Punjabi heritage with the more traditional community she’s left behind, the book tackles the tension between immigrants and their children, sibling relationships, how women can be empowered at any moment in life and the richness of community ties. While were at it, there’s a mystery to be solved, a romance and family saga contained within these pages. It’s readable, often funny, sometimes sexy, and despite going down easy, will leave you with lingering reflections and food for thought.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Novelist Arthur Less is on the verge of 50, his ex-boyfriend of nine years is marrying someone else–clearly the only logical response is to get out of town. Luckily there are enough invitations to half-baked literary events and teaching opportunities to provide the escape hatch he needs. As he circles the globe Arthur will find himself moments of triumph and slapstick despair. A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost and new beginnings at the dawn of middle age. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a book that will prompt discussions of how we change and grow, as well as one that will make you feel hopeful about the vagaries of life.
Circe by Madeline Miller
By Orange Prize winner, Madeline Miller (who lives in Narberth), Circe is an epic spanning thousands of years that will also keep you up at night turning pages. As Circe, the least gifted of her family, discovers her power -- that of a witch, she ends up banished as a scapegoat, and because of fear of her potential. Miller reimagines the story of Circe and reinvents her, changing Homer’s ruthless seductress into a woman with self-taught power, a keen intelligence, and empathy for humans – a sentiment not shared by her godly relatives. A retelling for a new generation, Circe allows book groups to revisit the classics with a discussion about what they might still teach us.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
A historical novel with a late nineteenth-century feel and a heroine who would not be out of place today, The Essex Serpent explores questions of science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love. Cora, an exploited widow and a naturalist at heart, hears that after nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year’s Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, he is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief. These seeming opposites challenge each other and the reader to look at their own beliefs.
If We Had Known by Elise Juska
Maggie, a writing professor at a community college in Maine, is surprised to learn that she taught a young man in a freshman English class who later perpetrates a shooting at a local mall. Were there signals of his future behavior in a paper he wrote? Why didn’t she see them? Should she have done more? Is she responsible? Switching between the perspectives of Maggie, her anxiety-bound, anorexic daughter and a student who starts a viral frenzy without meaning to, If We Had Known raises questions that it does not claim to answer. What can we know about others? What is a teacher’s or for that matter anyone’s responsibility when they have questions about someone else’s behavior? We can put your book group in touch with Elise if you would like to have her attend or skype with your group.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The best fiction takes us somewhere new, a feat masterfully done in Min Jin Lee’s tale of four generations of a Korean immigrant family’s fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan. In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger. When she discovers she is pregnant--and that her lover is married--she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister on his way to Japan. Her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off repercussions through ensuing generations. The story both similar to, and different from, the immigrant stories we grow up with as Americans. This fast paced, immersive novel will lead to interesting book group conversations about what it is to belong, who is good and who is bad and the role of women as the keepers of history.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well to do, if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril Avery is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamorous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from - and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.
In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Founding of the FBI by David Grann
Narrative non-fiction at its best, Killers of the Flower Moon is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. A hard to believe true story: in the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma after oil was discovered on their land. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off, as well as those who tried to discover what was happening. J Edgar Hoover, then a young director of the FBI, stepped in when the death toll mounted to more than two dozen and turned to a Texas Ranger and Native American to solve the heinous crimes.
Prairie Fires: The American Dream of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Whether you grew up with the Little House books, or watched the (saccharine) tv adaptation, or just are curious about the role prairie pioneers played in the development of the United States, you will find this Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder an engrossing read. Spanning nearly a century of epochal change, from the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl, Wilder’s dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance as well as a look at the origins of political philosophies that are part of our current national discussion. With fresh insights and new discoveries, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman whose classic stories grip us to this day.
Educated by Tara Westover
Had you met Tara Westover as a child, or as a teen, it is unlikely you would have envisioned that her path would land her in a doctoral program in History at Cambridge University. Raised in rural Idaho in a fundamentalist Mormon family that eschewed education – to say Tara was homeschooled would be an exaggeration. Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.
My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul
NYT Books Editor Pamela Paul’s memoir will resonate with all booklovers. Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia. But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books. It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader. It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path. It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.