"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, January 6, 2020

Best Book Club Selections of 2019

2019 Book Club favorites. I am in two book clubs. For this reason sometimes books will end up on my end-of-the-year list more than once. This year I asked the gals in my clubs, SOTH and RHS, for feedback. Therefore this list is part mine, part theirs. Keep in mind I select favorites based not only on how much the book was liked but also on how well the book generated a discussion. An educational aspect factor is also factored in. I want to learn something new when I read.  Of the 22 books we selected this year in the two clubs there was really only one clunker. I could easily make my list 21 books long for this reason. The titles are hyperlinked. Click on the title to read the reviews.

1. Educated by Tara Westover (2018, Random House)---This is on my list for the second year in a row. If you haven't read this book yet, what are you waiting for? An excellent discussion book on the topic of family dysfunction, education, abuse, and making one's own way. This was the #1 choice of SOTH Book Club this year.

2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018, G.P. Putnam's Sons) I loved this book and found the mystery compelling. Our discussion, in part, centered around the author and her life and her writing career. This is her first novel. I recommend that book clubs learn as much as they can about Delia Owens. This was the #1 RHS Book Club book of the year, though at least one member said she didn't like the book as much as many of the other books we read in 2019.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018, Crown) Michelle Obama came to Tacoma on her book tour. Two of us went to hear her speak. Our discussion over this book was one of the best we had all year. It was the #3 RHS Book Club selection of the year but I jumped it up the list based on the quality of our discussion.

4. Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019, Doubleday) Oh boy, this book is really disturbing. It is a fictionalized tale of real events that happened in a delinquent detention center in Florida, ending in the 1980s. This book was one of the most recommended books of the year and it was the #2 RHS Book Club selection.

5. The Great Alone or another book by Kristin Hannah (2018, St. Martin's Press) Here is a fun book club idea---choose an author and ask members to read one of his/her books. Ask them to come to the meeting prepared to discuss what they liked about the writing/plot/characters. We did this with Kristin Hannah's books because our library was hosting an event around her books. We had so much fun with this one and created some big fans out of the readers. It was the #2 SOTH Book Club choice. The Great Alone was not chosen in my other book club as a top three choice, though we read it for that club, too.

6. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016, Harper) This is a memoir of a family and culture in crisis. I was the host of club when we discussed this book. We had a great discussion but we couldn't think of any answers to the problems that Vance highlights for the conditions confronting "hillbillies" today. If you enjoy reading narrative nonfiction, this is an excellent choice. #3 SOTH Book Club choice.

7. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (2018, Viking) This was my favorite read of the year. I found it compelling because it told a story of the AIDS epidemic form the disease's inception to present time. I used to teach AIDS education so it was a story of high interest for me. Other members of the club weren't as interested in the topic as me but we still had a lively discussion.

8. There There by Tommy Orange (2018, Knopf) This is a very powerful story about the lives of urban Indians living in or coming to Oakland for the Big Oakland Powwow. We had a lot to digest and to discuss. Some members found the book challenging because there was a big cast of characters, twelve, to keep track of. At the end of the book I wasn't sure if I should cry or cheer. Those feelings alone give fodder for discussion.

9. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. (2019, Ballantine Books) I loved this book about a rock band that could have been modeled after Fleetwood Mac. Though I wasn't able to attend the meeting where it was discussed, I understand that it went well. The format of the book, transcript style, was off-putting to some. Me? I found it refreshing. I was able to get the story from many angles without the help of a omniscient narrator.

10. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips.(2019, Knopf) This book has the potential of being an excellent discussion book but we didn't have a particularly good one for a variety of reasons. I added this as my last choice because of the writing (spectacular) and what I learned about a corner of the earth I didn't even know the name of before (Kamchatka Peninsula). If you select this book for your club, I recommend that the discussion leader read the text with questions in mind, since the publisher offers no discussion questions.

Honorable mention:

11. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa. (2013, Little, Brown and Company) No one, and I mean no one, liked this book. But we had a fabulous discussion about it and about the WTO riots of Seattle in the late 1990s. My husband was invited as a guest speaker because he participated in the National Guard's response to the riots. Since we live near Seattle we all remembered information about the riots. I added this book here because I want to encourage you to select books that will be meaningful to your members even if you don't like them.

12. Circe by Madeline Miller. (2018, Little, Brown and Company) Pulled from Greek Mythology this is a modern re-telling of Circe's story. She was the bad girl of Greek mythology. Miller rewrites her story with a more sympathetic tone. I loved the story and so did one other club member. But the rest of the women hated the book. When we tried to discuss it all they wanted to talk about is how much they hated it. So, I guess, I really can't recommend this book for club meetings without this warning---everyone won't like it and be prepared for strong reactions.

13  Mother Daughter Me: a memoir by Katie Hafner. (2013, Random House) An excellent choice for a women's book club since this book is all about the relationships we have with our mothers and daughters. It was not a personal favorite but I did enjoy the club's discussion of the book.

Looking for more suggestions?  Click the links to check my past lists:


  1. A well thought out list, Anne. I would put "Circe" higher and "Crawdads" much lower. :) I loved seeing Michelle Obama with your family and you; it was a highlight of my year. Thanks for taking me!

    1. I tried to represent your point of view. But Crawdads got the most votes for the year. And, as I said, Circe did not generate a good discussion even IF you and I loved it.

    2. Oh, I completely understand! We had a wonderful selection of books last year; they were extremely varied and interesting. Even if I didn't care as much for certain ones as other people or loved books that some hated, I still enjoyed the discussions. What was the one clunker of 2019? I think 2020 is off to a great reading start with "Virgil Wander." Not sure yet what I think of "Motherless Brooklyn" but I did enjoy "The Dutch House."

  2. Wow, your book clubs read some really great books. Now I feel like I should add Nickel Boys to my TBR list.

    1. Yes, it was a very good year with book club selections. One clunker among 23 books. Not bad.

  3. Fascinating. I'm not in any book clubs but did research on them and got 25 to read an Iris Murdoch novel a while back.


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