Start Your Own Book Club

Is there something that you want to read this year? With all this pandemic nonsense (it’s not actually nonsense, I’m just over it in like August and am referring breezily to something that has been very real and terrible for me lately), I am—like many people—really staring off at the horizon of 2021. Of course, there’s not too much going to change as the ball drops and we drunkenly mumble under a blanket of chip crumbs our way through “Auld Lang Syne.” But we can dream that during 2021 many things will be restored to us. At any rate, this turning of the year has a different significance from others, and I thought it would be fun for me and helpful for you to compile a list of book club ideas for 2021. And it might be cool or even healthy if you reached out on Zoom and started yourself a book club that—God willing—will turn into meeting in the park will turn into meeting at a coffee shop before this year closes. Some of the lists are meant especially for this awkward time in history, but some of them (toward the bottom) are a lot more adaptive to any time.

Note: I have not read the vast majority of these books. They are not recommendations as much as thematic lists that I might want to explore, as well. And you can explore them with a group: hate them or love them, rearrange them (though I did give some thought to the order), swap some titles out, tackle a re-read or a book that is entirely too long or deep for you to tackle in a month… The ones with more links (read: reviews) are ones in which I have read more of the titles. I gave swapping options where I thought you might need them, for whatever reason. There are likely to be spelling errors and possibly also books that are just plain on the wrong list. I can give no more than the hours I have already spent, but feel free to correct me in comments. Some lists have a combo of fiction and nonfiction.

GETTING OVER 2020 (Therapy for the Pandemic and Post-Pandemic through Books)

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  • Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy¸ David D. Burns
  • The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris
  • The Kindness Challenge, Shaunti Feldhahn
  • Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado (*Christian book* Option: Anxiety, Clair Bidwell Smith)
  • Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte
  • Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty
  • Gmorning, Gnight, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Option: Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig)
  • Lives of the Stoics, Ryan Holiday
  • It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, Lysa TerKeurst (*Christian book* Option: Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon)
  • Dare, Barry McDonagh
  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky
  • Burnout, Nagoski and Nagoski (*book for women* Option: Rising Strong, Brene Brown)

DEALING WITH 2020 (Things You Might Need in a Pandemic Like Ours)

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  • Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, Jim Cobb *
  • The Well-Centered Home, William Hirsch
  • Adult Activity Book and Deadliest Enemy, Michael T. Osterholm
  • The Tassajara Bread Book, Brown and Suresha
  • Beginner’s Guide to DIY and Home Repair¸ Jo Behari
  • 365 Days of Art/Creativity/Nature, Lorna Scobie (or a specific book for a new interest)
  • Build Your Perfect Bog-Out Bag, Creek Stewart
  • 399 Games, Puzzles, and Trivia Challenges, Nancy Linde (and According to Hoyle, Richard L. Frey)
  • The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, Seymour and Headon
  • The Surprise Date Challenge Home Edition, Dana Lam
  • Bobby at Home, Bobby Flay (Options: Modern Comfort Food, Ina Garten or Ottolenghi Simple, Yotam Ottolenghi)
  • Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn

FOR THE NEW YEAR: A BETTER YOU (In No Particular Order, Books That Will Help with New Years’ Resolution-y Stuff All Year Long)

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  • Finding Your Way in a Wild, New World, Martha N. Beck
  • The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  • Drive, Daniel H. Pink
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey (Option: Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin)
  • The Mind-Gut Connection, Emeran Meyer
  • Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes
  • Grit, Angela Duckworth (Option: You’re Not Lost, Maxie McCoy)
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottleib
  • The Blue Zones Kitchen, Dan Buettner
  • Lifespan, David A. Sinclair
  • The New Health Rules, Lipman and Claro
  • Exercised, Daniel E. Liberman (Oops. That makes thirteen. You decide.)

SOCIAL ISSUES (Novels and Nonfiction That Might Get You Talking and Thinking about Some Important Stuff)

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  • Beyond Hashtag Activism, Mae Elise Cannon (*Christian book* Options: see below)
  • That Night, Amy Giles (Option: Thoughts & Prayers, Bryan Bliss)
  • Grown, Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Human Flow, Ai, et al
  • Punching the Air, Ibi Zoboi (or Dear Martin, Nic Stone or The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas)
  • Blood and Earth, Kevin Bales
  • A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi
  • Once I Was You, Maria Hinojosa (or I Wish You All the Best, Nathan Deaver)
  • Buried Beneath the Boabab Tree, Nwaubani and Mazza
  • Stamped, Reynolds and Kendi
  • The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells
  • We Are the Champions, Bansal and Tak

MODERN WOMEN WRITERS (Lauded Books Written by Women in the Past Ten Years, Surprisingly Heavily About Social Issues and Nonfiction-Journalism)

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  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
  • Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  • Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
  • The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
  • Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala
  • These Truths, Jill Lapore (Option: Dark Money, Jane Mayer)
  • The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert (Option: This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein)
  • The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf
  • Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievitch
  • All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister (Option: A Little Life, Hanya Yanigahara)
  • The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obreht

(I couldn’t seem to keep this list to twelve, so here is a second one, more novel-heavy)

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  • Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  • Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward
  • Quiet, Susan Cain
  • My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  • Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Circe, Madeline Miller
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  • The Leavers, Lisa Ko
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
  • Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson (Option: Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng)

WORLD VOICES (A Small Amount of Books to Represent a Great Big World)

  • Beer in the Snooker Club, Waguih Gali
  • Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (Option: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Option: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami)
  • The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulkagov
  • The Wonderful Adventures of Nils¸ Selma Lagerlof or Independent People, Halldor Laxness
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  • Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Housseni
  • A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
  • The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin

CLASSICS (Some of the Best Classics, In My Opinion, to Re-Introduce Someone, with a Couple Modern Classics in which I Tried to Spread Out the Hefty Ones)

POPULAR HISTORICAL FICTION (A List I Compiled Because It Gives My Brain a Bit of a Break)

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  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • The City of Brass, S.A. Chakroborty
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  • The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
  • The Lost Queen, Signe Pike
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
  • The Philosopher’s Flight, Tom Miller
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
  • The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

VICTORIAN LITERATURE (This Seemed Fun, Although Random, and Includes No Author Repeats)

  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • Middlemarch, George Eliott
  • Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Thomas Hardy
  • Dracula, Bram Stoker
  • The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  • The Warden, Anthony Trollope
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde
  • North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell (Option: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde¸ Robert Louis Stephenson

AROUND THE WORLD (Since We Can’t Physically Travel Much in a Pandemic, Why Not Go in the Pages of Books?)

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  • The Travels of Ibn Buttata, Ibn Buttata
  • The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
  • China Along the Yellow River, Cao Jinqing
  • The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald
  • On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  • Letters to a Young Novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
  • The Beach, Alex Garland
  • Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
  • When the Going Was Good, Evenlyn Waugh (Option: Video Night in Kathmandu, Pico Iyer)

THROUGH TIME (This Also Seemed Fun; Travelling Through Time. Read a Book from Each Century!)

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  • The Odyssey, Homer or Beowulf
  • Metamorphoses, Ovid or Medea, Euripides
  • The Tale of Gengi, Murasaki Shikibu
  • Histories of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo
  • The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Le Morte d’Arthur, Thomas Malory or Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  • Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
  • Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe or Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger or The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

TIME TRAVEL (Because It Is My Husband’s Favorite “Genre” and I Bought Him Like Four Books for Christmas, with Two Bigfoot Books at the End because That’s His Other Favorite “Genre”)

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  • Here and Now and Then, Mike Chen
  • The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
  • 11/22/63, Stephen King
  • Time and Again, Jack Finney
  • Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Dooms Day Book, Connie Willis
  • Kindred, Octavia E. Butler
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • Devolution, Max Brooks
  • The Beast of Boggy Creek, Lyle Blackburn

MAGIC REALISM (Because It Is My Favorite Genre and You Could Also Read Benevolent, by Me)

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
  • Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  • The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Chocolat, Jane Harris
  • Bone Gap¸ Laura Ruby
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

You could also easily visit one of my best ofs lists and choose twelve books from any of those. These lists include:

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