Blog – Posted on Friday, Apr 02
The 35 Best Book Club Books to Get You Talking in 2021
It seems that everybody and their dog has a book club these days. But whether you’re a seasoned old-timer, or you started up an online book club in 2020, you’re probably facing the same question: “What should we read next”?
When decision fatigue sets in, picking the next group read can be the hardest part of the process. But fear not, because we’re here to help. Whether you’re looking for cutting-edge releases new for 2021 or classic recommendations, we’ve selected 35 of the very best book club books sure to spark conversation. So get that coffee brewing and have your page tabs handy, because we’re ready to dive in.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great book club books out there, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized book recommendation for your club 😉
2021 releases your book club will lap up
If your book club prides itself on being on top of the latest literary releases, we’ve got you covered. Here are 12 book club books we think you’ll love that are new in 2021. Pencil them into your TBR and you’ll be set for the rest of the year.
1. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
In this year’s most anticipated sci-fi release, Booker-winner Kazuo Ishiguro returns with gusto and sensitivity to the theme of personhood and what it means to be human — his bread and butter. Klara is a humanoid robot built to be an “Artificial Friend”. When chosen as a companion for a gravely ill 14-year old, Klara is confronted by aspects of the human condition to which she’d previously been naïve: love, loneliness, and mortality. Tackling major questions regarding AI and the ethics of technology, Klara and the Sun is fuel for a fascinating book club discussion.
2. Girl A by Abigail Dean
Is there a member of your book club who, despite their best efforts, never gets around to finishing the book? (And hey, no judgement! We all have busy lives!). Well, fear not: we have the answer. Abigail Dean’s debut novel Girl A is a gripping thriller guaranteed to get even the most sluggish reader racing to the end. The novel follows Lex, the titular Girl A, who escapes her abusive home — dubbed the “house of horrors” by the media — and tries to put the past behind her. But when Lex’s mother dies in prison, leaving the house to her and her siblings, it becomes apparent that she can’t outrun her past. An unflinching look at the aftermath of trauma, Girl A is one of those much-hyped book club books that your own club is guaranteed to devour.
3. Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
Of Fake Accounts, Zadie Smith wrote: “This novel made me want to retire from contemporary reality. I loved it.” And we couldn’t agree more. A cutting-edge look at internet culture, social media, and the malleability of identity in the modern age, Fake Accounts is a challenging but timely debut from author Lauren Oyler. The narrator, an unnamed young woman, is snooping through her boyfriend’s phone on the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration when she makes a startling discovery: he’s a notorious online conspiracy theorist. A series of incredible revelations leads the narrator to Berlin, where the story is only just beginning. Oyler clearly has her finger on the pulse of 2020s culture, and the stark truths in Fake Accounts are sure to spark heated debate among your reading group.
4. Aquarium by Yaara Shehori
The Ackermans live in a world of their own, entirely by choice. Father Alex, mother Anna, and daughters Lili and Dori are all deaf — avoiding “the hearing” at all costs. Instead, they live an alternative lifestyle, only observing outsiders from afar. But when an earth-shattering secret is revealed, the family unit is torn apart, and the girls are forced to navigate the world of the hearing alone. A beautiful exploration of love and sisterhood, Aquarium raises fascinating questions about the nature of disability and identity.
5. Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor
If you’re looking for a palate cleanser after a string of dense novels, you could do far worse than Filthy Animals. A series of interlinked vignettes from critically acclaimed author Brandon Taylor, Filthy Animals provides a snapshot of life in the American Midwest from a number of perspectives, including a young woman fighting cancer, a young man navigating an open relationship, and a group of teenagers whose tensions reach boiling point. Your book club will delight in untangling this complex web of relationships, and the breadth of stories guarantees there’ll be something for everyone.
6. Outlawed by Anna North
Ada’s running out of time. In a frontier town where women who can’t have children are hanged for witchcraft, she’s still not pregnant — and quickly approaching her first wedding anniversary. As panic sets in, Ada realizes her hometown is no longer safe, so she goes on the run. She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of female and non-binary outlaws who dream of setting up a safe haven for women on the frontier — but the risks they’ll have to take to get there are steep. Unlike anything your book club has read before, this wild wild Western piece of feminist fiction is a little bit True Grit, a little bit The Handmaid’s Tale, and a whole lot of adventure.
7. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
In Cherie Jones’ much-hyped debut novel, a murder brings two very different couples crashing into each other’s orbits. Set on Barbados, this thriller shatters our conceptions of the island paradise and exposes the dark underbelly lurking beneath even the most picturesque communities. We follow two women: pregnant hairdresser Lala, trapped in a violent marriage, and the wealthy Mira, who has left her life of luxury in London and returned home to Baxter’s Beach. When Lala knocks on Mira’s front door late at night, in labor and alone, what unfurls is as brutal as it is shocking. A searing study of class and crime, there’s no chance you’ll put this book club book down before the final page.
8. One of the Good Ones by Maika and Maritza Moulite
When teenage activist Kezi is tragically killed after a social justice rally, the public outrage is overwhelming. Her sisters Happi and Genny, while dealing with their own grief, must also reckon with an unexpected outcome: their brilliant, but ultimately very human sister’s elevation as an infallible martyr. As the public stamps Kezi’s memory with the label “one of the good ones”, her sisters struggle to reconcile the real-life Kezi with the angelic figure she’s become. They confront uncomfortable questions about legacy, fallibility, and who “deserves” to be mourned — and by implication, who doesn’t. Deeply timely and edifying, One of the Good Ones is a certified must-read by a powerhouse sister duo.
9. Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life's Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
In production at the time of her passing in September 2020, this volume is a fascinating look into the life and legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Curated in partnership with Berkeley law professor Amanda L. Tyler, Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue chronicles Ginsburg’s life in her own words. From speeches and oral arguments to Supreme Court opinions, Ginsburg’s hand-selected documents (including some which have never before been published) shed light on her commitment to justice and gender equality, and provide an incredibly in-depth account — and one of the best biographies — of an extraordinary life.
10. Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion
Another great option for any book club facing novel fatigue, fans of the essay form will be delighted to hear that 2021 is bringing a whole new arrangement of writings by the incomparable Joan Didion. This timeless collection of pieces — spanning the breadth of her career — tackles insecurity, femininity, and the wider culture. A colorful array of characters and situations populate the pages of this carefully curated anthology, meaning you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to talking points.
11. With Teeth: A Novel by Kristen Arnett
Sammie is losing her grip on life. Her troubled son has become increasingly threatening and she’s started to resent her absent wife. As tensions reach boiling point, she’s forced to reckon with her own failings as she attempts to figure out where things went wrong. Peppered with surprising moments of dry humor despite the challenging subject matter, Kristen Arnett’s latest novel is a profoundly honest examination of family dynamics and the trials and tribulations of parenthood.
12. A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
It’s a tale as old as time: young lovers from feuding families are forced to battle against the odds to make their star-crossed romance work. But Loan Le’s 21st-century reimagining has a (not so) secret ingredient — a whole lot of noodle soup. Bao and Linh’s families run rival Vietnamese restaurants, so when a romance sparks between them, they’ll need to decide what they’re willing to risk to follow their hearts’ desire. A nourishing, savory rom-com that’s guaranteed to delight, this debut novel is the heaping portion of comfort your book club has been craving. (Noodle soup for the soul, anyone?)
Evergreen classics for book club books
If you’re not in the mood for a new release and want to go for some tried-and-true reads, here are some we’ve hand-selected for their ability to spark conversation. These much-discussed volumes range from the oldest of the old (we’re talking 800BC) to hyped recent releases that your book club may have missed and we think are worth circling back round to.
13. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
If you still haven’t picked up this cult classic, it’s definitely time to suggest The Secret History to the group. A heady, atmospheric mystery that spawned an entire subculture (“dark academia”, anyone?), The Secret History is a coming-of-age novel like no other. Following a group of classics students at an elite college, the story details their gradual unraveling — a downward spiral that ends with a death amongst their ranks. As you’ll know if you’ve ever met one of the novel’s devoted fanbase, it’s a book people simply cannot stop talking about — perfect book club fodder.
14. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
More than 200 years after its release, the questions raised by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remain as pressing as ever. Considering its enduring relevance in popular culture, you probably know the plot already, so we won’t bore you; but suffice to say, this seminal story about a scientist creating a sentient creature still holds up today. Frankenstein will have your book group up until the wee hours discussing issues of personhood, humanity, and the ethics of science —not least because this horror classic will leave you more than a little spooked.
15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
For any book club interested in women’s rights, The Handmaid’s Tale is an essential pick. A prescient look at issues of fertility and feminism, this dystopian classic, first released in the 1980s, has gained new significance among contemporary readers, who find it to be a fruitful point of comparison for modern political developments. If you loved the Hulu series and want to dig down deeper into the themes at hand, why not give the source material a try?
16. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
There’s a certain amount of snobbery around including YA and children’s literature within a book club reading list. However, even the most sceptical reader will find their preconceptions challenged by Mark Haddon’s superlative coming-of-age mystery novel. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime follows Christopher, a boy with autism who investigates the mysterious death of his neighbor’s pet dog, only to stumble across a number of unexpected and uncomfortable truths about his family. Raising important discussions about identity, and providing insight into both the challenges and possibilities of neurodivergence, The Curious Incident is deeply thoughtful YA. Moral of the story: don’t think kidlit can’t be serious!
17. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
A word of warning: this 2020 Booker winner isn’t an easy one to stomach. The heartbreaking tale of Shuggie, a working class boy in Thatcher-era Glasgow, is relentlessly harrowing, touching on themes of addiction, abuse, sexual assault, and suicide. This brutal examination of a toxic mother-son bond shocked readers and critics, yet captured something universal in its authentic depiction of family life in impossible circumstances. If your club is looking for a critically acclaimed read that tackles serious topics, Shuggie is an important recent release to get under your belt.
18. The Odyssey by Homer
Ancient Greek literature might sound dry, but there’s a reason readers have been attracted to The Odyssey’s siren song for millenia. The story of Odysseus’ voyage home to his faithful wife Penelope is a foundational text — one that you’ll find echoes of in many of your favorite modern titles. So if you want to dig down into literary history, or have a greater appreciation for some of your modern picks by way of better understanding their ancient allusions, treat your book club to this blast from the past.
19. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people call it “the intellectual equivalent of Kraft macaroni and cheese” (and by “some people” we mean Stephen King). Wherever you land, it’s undeniable that Dan Brown’s blockbusting bestseller The Da Vinci Code is divisive enough to get conversation flowing. This art-historical thriller follows a twisting tale of murder and code-cracking, steeped in art history and religion, and it’s literally impossible to have nothing to say about it — for better or worse.
20. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Your book club might usually stick to literary fiction, but if you want a well-rounded diet, you shouldn’t neglect genre fiction! For those in the market for a healthy helping of sci-fi, you might want to start with HG Wells’ 1897 classic, War of the Worlds. Beyond the surface-level plot, which chronicles the traumatic arrival of Martians on Earth, you’ll find deftly crafted social commentary, exploring the devastating effects of colonialism in allegorical terms. Careful reading and close examination are rewarded here, making it a book club staple.
21. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The great book club books often pose one overarching question and challenges its reader to discern an answer. In the case of Girl, Woman, Other, that question is clear: What does it mean to be a girl, a woman, or a gender-nonconforming person in Black Britain? This breathtaking portrait of twelve female and nonbinary people across the African diaspora is as vividly realized as it is absorbing. Evaristo’s mastery in the field of the short story ensures every section is a self-contained gem, each following one of our twelve leads, whose intersecting lives cross lines of class and identity. As beautiful as it is important, if you haven’t read it already you’ll want to pick this one up sooner rather than later.
22. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
For a stylish slice of historical fiction, Markus Zusak’s Book Thief is a go-to choice for many book clubs. Covering broad thematic ground, this WWII novel tells the story of Liesel, a young girl coming of age in Nazi Germany. Perhaps best-known for being a book narrated by Death, this might sound a little out there for some readers. But far from being bleak or gimmicky, the beautiful prose and moments of joy make this expertly executed and unique narrative perspective a delight to analyze.
23. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
If there’s one thing book lovers love reading about, it’s book lovers. For those who want to get a little self-indulgent, My Life in Middlemarch is a beautiful reflection on the importance of reading that bookworms are guaranteed to enjoy. Part memoir, part ode to literature, author Rebecca Mead leads us through the story of her life-long, evolving relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch (another book club classic, if you don’t mind your books running long). An ideal pick if your club’s motivation is flagging and you need a reminder of the life changing magic of a good book.
24. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
While we might instinctively resist the books we’ve always been told to read, sometimes, there’s a reason the classics are classics. As brilliant as it is controversial (it’s the eighth most banned book in American libraries), The Lord of the Flies is shocking, visceral, and a guaranteed conversation starter. A tale about a group of boys left to their own devices on a desert island, and their ensuing struggle to find order among chaos, Golding’s book is a brutal look at humanity, community, and civilization. It’s a staple for any book club due to the timelessness of its themes, but be warned: it isn’t for the faint of heart.
25. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
If you had to pick between saving the man you love's life, or preserving your sister's freedom, which would you choose? Or, to put it another way, is blood thicker than water when actual blood is involved? Okinyan Braithwaite's searingly tense yet darkly humorous debut novel asks this among many other questions: not least, where the line between comedy and horror lies. One of our picks for must-read books by black authors, My Sister, the Serial Killer will produce heated debate and nervous giggles in equal parts.
26. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Released to incessant buzz in 2019, Fleishman is in Trouble tells the story of an acrimonious divorce, a forty-something man navigating the world of online dating, and a sudden disappearance. The tale of Fleishman and his ex-wife’s vanishing act has a lot to say about 21st-century marriage and the anxieties that underpin middle-class life, meaning there’s every chance it’ll hit a little close to home for some readers (in a way only a truly incisive book can). But if you can wince through the pain, you won’t be disappointed by this blisteringly funny, yet fiercely moving, page-turner that stealthily packs a powerful feminist punch.
27. Animal Farm by George Orwell
It might seem to have become the reserve of high school English classes over time, but there’s still a lot to unpack in George Orwell’s 1945 novella. This allegorical tale of political power, democracy, and communism — all explored through the lens of farm animals — is an enduring statement that never fails to leave us reeling, and therefore a guaranteed big hitter for any discussion group. Even if your knowledge of WWII and the era of Stalin is a little rustier than you’d like, Orwell’s prose is so sharp, compelling, and clear that you can’t fail to hear something of what he’s saying in Animal Farm — and feel a little blinded by its brightness. Packed with wit and humor, this is a book for everyone.
28. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Another book that explores literature’s power to transport and transform us, The Midnight Library makes poignant fodder for the kind of avid readers that make up a book club. The premise is an intriguing one: imagine you could retrace every fork in the road over the course of your life, and lead any of the lives you might have lived if you’d made different choices. What would you change? Well, reading the books that stock the shelves of the Midnight Library allows you to do just that. A delightful dose of magical realism, The Midnight Library posits questions about regret and fate that won’t fail to get you reminiscing.
29. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Sometimes, the best book discussions are thinly veiled arguments. If you want to throw a cat among the pigeons, suggest this Harper Lee’s deeply controversial first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird to your book club. Divisive among casual readers as it has among critics and literary historians, this book offers an unexpected divergence from the civil rights classic we are more familiar with. It’ll spark interesting discussions around authorship, ownership, and how much a book can belong to its readers. And hey, if you’re happy to do a double bill, why not read both Watchman and Mockingbird — the comparison between the two is where the debate really heats up.
30. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
If you’re looking to broaden your genre horizons, why not give narrative nonfiction books a try? Lisa Taddeo’s breathtaking Three Women is a great way to dip your toes into the waters of creative journalism. Following the true stories of (surprise, surprise) three women, Taddeo chronicles their sexual and emotional lives in stunning detail. A complex snapshot of the internal worlds and sexuality of American women in the 21st century, this book will challenge your preconceptions of what nonfiction should look like.
31. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley’s classic masterpiece is an uncanny prediction of a future that arrived far quicker than he expected. Reading this 1932 novel only gets more rewarding as the decades pass, and we’re able to read with one foot firmly in the present, spotting the eerie parallels between Huxley’s speculative future and our own modern world. A prescient and brilliant work of dystopian sci-fi, Brave New World is a must-read — so why not kill two birds with one stone, and tick off a book club read and one of the books you should read before you die in one go?
32. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Another SFF classic that sparks fascinating discussion, Philip Pullman’s fantasy series is so thematically rich that the fantastical elements are just the cherry on top — although, talking polar bears and shape-shifting daemons are quite the cherry. For those who enjoy drawing out parallels between fiction and the real world, Pullman’s presentation of an alternative Oxford touches astutely upon religious and political power in a world far closer to our own than initial impressions might suggest, creating ample room for debate and analysis as a group.
33. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
He's undeniably one of the most influential authors of all time, but the deeply idiosyncratic Haruki Murakami's work is deeply challenging, and usually provokes either an ecstatically positive, or strongly negative reaction. His sparse style is divisive, and his often bizarre narrative structures are deliberately posing a riddle to his readers. Kafka on the Shore is our recommended starting point for this extraordinary author: it's one you’ll want to talk out the second you’re finished with it, so it’s best to rope a whole book club into doing it with you.
34. Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng’s gripping 2017 psychological thriller explores unnervingly familiar territory for most readers. This domestic drama details the anxieties of a mother, and the dangers of hanging on to your children too tightly, drawing relatable concerns out to their most extreme conclusions. Also bringing important conversations about race and class to the table, Ng’s second novel became a book club classic immediately upon launch. If you skipped it the first time around, it’s well worth circling back to.
35. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Children’s books may seem like a thing of your literary past, but don’t forget that there’s often more than meets the eye in some of your childhood favorites. One classic that’s well worth revisiting is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: CS Lewis’ biblical allegory may have gone over your head when you were a kid, but it’s a masterpiece of symbolism that you’ll appreciate on a whole new level as an adult. Plus, it gets extra points for nostalgia, making it a surefire crowd-pleaser at any book club night.
Hungry for more recommended reads? Check out our list of the 115 best books of all time.