Looking for new Book Club ideas? Here are my best book club bets:
The Floor of Heaven by Howard Blum
One of my favorite books of narrative non-fiction ever. Set in Alaska during the Yukon gold rush and seen through the lives of three characters, a Denver crime boss, a Pinkerton detective, and the American who started the whole thing. Think Krakauer and Larson for comparisons.
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
A debut from a Durham author that is utterly original and compelling. A dystopic novel set in the near future where India and Africa are economic kingpins this is the story of a young woman running away from herself.
Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan
If you’ve never read Lewis Nordan do yourself a favor and pick this up. He’s a southern master in the use of humor to mask everyday reality. In this case it’s through the love of a ten year old and his love for his hapless father. Think Southern magical realism ala Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
More WWII historical fiction. This time it’s a young woman’s quest to find out the history of a locket her grandfather has willed her, a locket he took from the cache of the Hungarian gold train he was entrusted to guard while the war was slowly ending. I enjoyed this twisting narrative that took me almost all the way through the 20th century.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Why can’t people write like this anymore? Easily one of the best books I’ll ever read. We all know the story; idealism corrupted by the graft of politics, but never has it ever been told so clearly as through this fictionalized story of Louisiana’s Huey Long. Juxtapose this against the next book in the list.
This Town by Mark Leibovich
This has a really long subtitle which I didn’t include but here are some of the key words; Funeral, valet parking, and gilded, which I think sum up perfectly this satiric novel. Read this and All the King’s Men one right after the other and see how much has changed, or not changed, as the case may be.
The Wind Is Not A River by Brian Payton
Even more WWII fiction except a bit different in that it’s set in the Aleutian Islands, the only American territory to be invaded. It’s the story of a Canadian reporter seeking news on the censored fighting and his American wife who wants to find out what has happened to him after he disappears. Well written with the kind of realistic ending I like, this is one of the best of its kind I’ve read.
The Kept by James Scott
Right now this is my favorite novel of the year. Set in 1897 upstate New York, it’s a grim quest for revenge that I can pretty much recommend to almost anybody because the characters are so compelling, beginning with Caleb, a 12 year old boy carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and his mother, a woman with some serious secrets.
The Unwinding by George Packer
Winner of the National Book Award this is a look at the unwinding of the social net over the last 40 years as seen through the eyes of a diverse cross section of citizens, including a man from North Carolina who’s a hardscrabble entrepreneur with big dreams and ideas that are consistently beaten down. This a sure to elicit a lively conversation.
Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
I read this years ago and can still remember that readerly joy that comes from a good book. It starts in the 1940’s in NY with a six year old boy picking out on a piano the songs he’s heard on the radio. The book then follows this prodigy through everything his talents bring him, all the highs, the lows, and everything in-between.