NYPL Recommends: Book Club Books
People often ask us to recommend a good book for their book club. We usually turn to a character-driven story, particularly those in which the character faces a choice that changes the course of their lives. Moral quandaries are ripe for debate. Books with intricate plotlines or connected storylines and multiple perspectives are good choices. These books are often made better—and the reading becomes more layered—through discussion. Finally, books with ambiguous endings can lead to good speculative discussions. We asked our book expert staff what books have worked well in the book clubs they host in library branches across the city. Here’s what they said:
Oh! I love this prompt. I'm going to be greedy and suggest three. My favorite book discussion books, in this order are:
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. What seems like such a simple (yet dark) narrative opens into a trove of moral quandaries, some of which genuinely surprised me. The ethics of healthcare, friendship, education, raising children, eating animals, or even of what it means to be human came up the last time I was part of a discussion on this book. It's like a diamond: every time you shift it ever so slightly, a new color or glint of light appears that you didn't quite see before.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I love a dystopian tale for shedding light on the most basic and important elements of humanity. Simple, repetitious refrains between father and son explode ideas about family, community, country, and faith that undergird daily life in America.
3. The Circle by Dave Eggers. Similar to the last two, this book is highly accessible due to the familiar language in which it is written, and the topical nature of its subject. However, it traffics in big capital: Ideas about technology, privacy, democracy, religion, culture, and the psychology of crowds.
—Nancy Aravecz, Jefferson Market
Our adult book club here at the Mosholu branch just read Invitation To a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov. The crime committed has such a loose definition one could talk for hours about what is "gnostical turpitude" and how does one commit it? The open ending allowed for much interpretation. Nabokov's prose style is fun to explore with others. The reading of others may add a new layer to your own.
Mosholu's children's book club had great success reading Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. This is a great introduction to free verse poetry for children. The story is engaging and relatable. The injustices faced by the protagonists and other secondary characters will hit home for anyone who has moved to a new community, faced racial or gender discrimination, or felt out of place.
—Richard Dowe, Mosholu
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight sparked great conversation at Aguilar. The suspenseful plot, with alternating points of view explores how popularity, bullying and social media affect teenagers and parents after a suspected suicide of a teen girl. A quick yet thrilling reads that raises questions about modern parenting and growing up in the 21st century.
—Morgan O’Reily, Aguilar
At the Chatham Square branch we did a 4th grade book club with The Nocturnals Book One: The Mysterious Abductions by Tracy Hecht. This funny book follows some nocturnal animals as they try to track down their missing friends. Our discussion sparked questions about the grey area between 'hero' and 'villain', what it means to be a good leader, and also got our class interested in non-fiction materials about the book's unique animals!
—Alessandra Affinito, Chatham Square
In sci-fi, I suggest Nod by Adrian Barnes. If you were part of the one in 10,000 people who could still sleep, how would you survive in a world going insane? Your fellow humans would slowly die as total lack of sleep destroyed first their minds, then their bodies. Is that a judgment of humanity? Were you chosen for some reason?
There's also Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Sure, it's golden age sci-fi but it does ask pertinent questions about empires in decline. Hari Seldon invents psychohistory, a new discipline that predicts the arc of society after the Galactic Empire's downfall. Is that disturbing on an individual level or simply an advanced sociology we have yet to discover? Would individual actions even matter anymore? Did they ever?
—Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil
The Nix by Nathan Hill is rich with jumping off points for a book discussion: folklore, technology, politics and a plot full of flashbacks that spans several states. The family drama evokes Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections for me, another great book discussion book.
—Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
One of our best discussions in recent years was of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It's a big book, and very much a product of its time, but I think we were all pleasantly surprised by how engaging it still is—in terms of story, characters, and social significance.
—David Nochimson, Pelham Parkway-Van Nest
The St. Agnes branch hosts a book group of Upper West Side ladies and several of their choices have generated energetic discussions. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is one example. Even if you did not protest against the war in Vietnam this just might have you singing "and it's one, two, three what are we fighting for…" by Country Joe and the Fish.
Another was Stephen King's 11/23/63. This novel is not a horror story but a story that's about a horrible event in United States history. Before JFK was assassinated no one would believe that something so tragic could happe, but what if someone could go back in time and prevent it? It's a long book but King's attention to the details of the late '50s and early '60s and the tension really made it a winner for our book group.
—Peggy Salwen, St. Agnes
At The Bronx Library Center, we read The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare. The play generated some interesting and varied conversation topics due to its mixture of tragedy and comedy, and its peculiar ending.
A couple other Shakespeare plays that I would also suggest for book discussions are King Lear and The Merchant of Venice. Both the heroes and the villains in these plays are complex characters, and in some characters' cases there are multiple ways to interpret their motives, their personalities, and how responsible they are (or are not) for their actions and for the situations in which they find themselves.
—Christina Lebec, Bronx Library Center
Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pea generated a flurry of discussion among my teen readers. Some of them were quite offended by the title but this led to a greater discussion about racial identity and multi-cultural families. They were appalled to learn the book had been taken off school reading lists in Arizona, which led to a much bigger discussion about book censorship and intellectual freedom.
—Lauren Bradley, 53rd Street
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!