When I tell people about books, I often tell them about books I read and loved. Makes sense, right? But when I talk about books, I need to talk about more than just what I loved reading.
What makes a book discussion worthy? It could be a book that is widely loved but also explores important themes, like Americanah. It could be a polarizing book that readers seem to either really love or really hate, like Fates and Furies. Books that cover tough topics, include ambiguous endings or feature unlikable characters can also make for great conversation.
Whether you are in a book club or just looking for a book to gab about with fellow readers, here are seven discussion-worthy titles to add to your bookshelf:
Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of popular contemporary novels such as The Husband’s Secret and last year’s Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction, Truly Madly Guilty. Many of her novels follow the same formula: Readers enter the story after a big event, which we slowly learn about through the perspectives of multiple female characters in alternating chapters. In Big Little Lies, the mysterious event is a tragedy at a school fundraiser, which is revealed through the stories of three moms at the school.
What to discuss: Moriarty’s books have been described as “highbrow chick lit” or “women’s fiction,” which basically means they are about realistic women with realistic problems. These problems are often tough—such as domestic abuse, infertility, or sexual assault—but that also makes them important to discuss. After reading Big Little Lies, watch the HBO adaptation (premiering February 2017) to compare and discuss.
2. Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to challenge poverty and racial injustice. This semi-autobiographical nonfiction book addresses the criminal justice system in America (and its inequalities) by focusing on Stevenson’s experiences practicing law, with special attention on areas such as capital punishment, juvenile incarceration, and how race and class affect the legal process.
What to discuss: What’s not to discuss in this book? Yes, it is sad and infuriating. But its subtitle is “A Story of Justice and Redemption,” and the threads of hope and redemption are clear throughout. This book is an excellent conversation starter for anyone who is interested in social justice and the law.
3. The Mothers
In this debut novel, “The Mothers” from a conservative church community in southern California collectively narrate the story of Nadia, a young girl who loses her mother to suicide, enters a relationship with the pastor’s son and finds a best friend in an unlikely match—all shortly before graduating high school.
What to discuss: You might be nervous to discuss this book once you hear some of the main topics, which include heavy-hitters such as suicide and abortion. But Brit Bennett, despite being surprisingly young (only 26 when the book published), addresses these topics with care, grace and tolerance.
This young adult novel features Clay, a high school boy with a crush on a girl named Hannah. Two weeks after Hannah commits suicide, Clay receives a package with a tape Hannah recorded, explaining the thirteen reasons she decided to kill herself.
What to discuss: This novel is a fascinating exploration of how our choices and actions can affect the lives of others. Even if we think something is minor or inconsequential, others may not feel the same way.
Arguably the most lauded book of 2016 was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. But this book, which also reimagines slavery and American history, flew mostly under the radar. In Ben Winters’ alternate history novel, the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in four U.S. states. The story features Victor, a black bounty hunter who works for the U.S. government returning fugitive slaves to these states.
What to discuss: The alternate world Winters has created in this novel is thorough and full of pop culture references and fictional legislation that explains how an America with legal slavery could exist in the present. Most notably, however, are the aspects of the novel that we still see reflected in today’s society, despite the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. It is this world and the characters that are the most discussion worthy, even more so than the action-packed plot.
Harper Lee’s manuscript Go Set a Watchman was published after her death in 2016 amid quite a bit of controversy. Some readers avoided the book because they felt it was a money grab and Lee never wanted the manuscript to be published. Others mistakenly thought the book was a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird rather than the draft she submitted to her editor that eventually became the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
What to discuss: The circumstances surrounding the book’s release are certainly discussion worthy, and the book contains the same themes as To Kill A Mockingbird, including civil rights and race relations. Those who have read To Kill A Mockingbird may enjoy comparing the two versions and discussing the writing and editing process for authors.
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” This isn’t a spoiler because you read these sentences on the very first page of this debut novel about a Chinese-American family in 1970s Ohio. When the middle daughter and golden child, Lydia, goes missing, her family desperately searches for answers and is forced to face their own secrets along the way.
What to discuss: Birth order, family structure, cultural assimilation, interracial relationships, prejudice, coping with loss, gender roles, and expectations … the discussion-worthy topics in this novel are endless.