Usually, our selections for book club reads come easily. We’ll have a list a mile long on our TBR. But then… life happens. You read the book and have nothing to say about it but “I liked it.” Or you loved it, but you don’t think the group will like it, and you just can’t stand to watch the vipers rip it to shreds. Or, you look back over your TBR, and like with a menu at your favorite restaurant, sometimes—unthinkably—nothing really looks appetizing. If you’re finding yourself in any of these situations, worry not. We’re here to help.
Below is a short list of five books that are guaranteed to be thought
You might remember Emma Donoghue’s work from her award-winning novel, Room. Reviewers say that The Pull of the Stars is her best work since then. In Dublin in 1918, the Great Flu is tearing through the population. Our protagonist, Nurse Julia Power works at a hospital understaffed since the start of the Great War with other incredibly strong women. The novel lends itself easily to discussion topics like pandemic treatments, health care, history of the Great War, history of Ireland (in relation to its European neighbors), and women’s roles throughout all of these.
You might know the screen adaption of Maid through its limited series, but in case you’re unfamiliar, this memoir follows Stephanie Land. She’s a 28-year-old aspiring writer, but when a summer fling leaves her pregnant, she resorts to housekeeping to scrape by. This book lends itself to discussions of class economy, motherhood, the nature of memoir, and how to ethically adapt memoir to the screen (if the club watches the adaptation as well), just to name a few.
We’re all familiar with the classic fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella… but what if all these women met together, in a basement support group, to discuss their traumas? That’s what this book is. If your club favors the literary or meta-fictional, this one is a great pick. It lends itself to discussions of retold fairy tales, coming of age rites of passage, and representation of women in children’s stories.
A perfect, classic read for spooky season, Fledgling is Octavia Butler’s final novel. When a young girl realizes her superhuman needs—and powers—she realizes that she’s actually a 53-year-old woman who has been genetically modified into a vampire, and she tries to salvage what she can from the life before, which she has all but forgotten. This science fiction/fantasy novel lends itself to discussions of psychology, representations of monstrosity (particularly in women), and, of course, the concept of vampirism itself.
Another novel that’s a good choice for both spooky season and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, The Apology follows our protagonist into the afterlife. Hak Jeong is a pampered, 105-year-old matriarch. She receives a mysterious letter, and she dies ten days after. From the afterlife, she fights a curse on her family that could devastate all her descendants for generations. This novel lends itself to discussions of family dynamics, beliefs of the afterlife (specific to South Korean folklore), and the nature of matriarchy, among many others.
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.