What are the Best Book Club Books?

A literary discussion is held at the 2014 South Dakota Festival of Books in Sioux Falls. The South Dakota Humanities Council offers a packaged reading program, "Book Club to Go," featuring numerous selections for book clubs to choose from. Authors who have been featured at the annual Festival of Books are also featured in the SDHC Lending Library. 

Finding the Best Book for your Club

By Ryan Woodard

The best book club books are meaningful, easily discussed and don't have an intimidating page count. 

We've previously discussed how to start a book club. Now you've connected a group of bibliophiles anxious to read and discuss some good books. You're ready to go!

But with a seemingly infinite number of choices, how do you decide on an appropriate book for your group? Considering a few factors will improve your discussion and members' enjoyment/participation.

Book Club to Go Library a Great Resource

SDHC's Book Club to Go is a great starting point for ideas. Our lending library includes fiction and non-fiction selections covering a variety of topics, from war literature to historical non-fiction; we also have an extensive collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning books.

If you are an avid reader, you already know how to filter good books from the not-so-good. Alas, not all good books - even classics - are ideal for your book club.

Factors for your Book Club to Consider

Content and length are typically more important than genre when it comes to selecting a good book club book.

Length is a primary concern. Aim for 300-400 pages, which is an achievable length for book clubs that meet monthly. Although William Faulkner called Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" the "best book ever written," your members may struggle to get through 864 pages in a single month.

Find content that can easily be discussed. This can be trickier that it may seem. For example, a straightforward "whodunit" mystery novel may leave you with fewer discussion points than a literary fiction novel underscored by numerous themes.

Non-fiction is typically a safe bet and can be especially enjoyable to reflect upon, especially if it's pertinent to current social or political issues.

Also, whether you choose fiction or non-fiction, don't pick a book that is centered on a belief shared by your entire group, or you won't have much to discuss.

A book doesn't need to be contentious to be worth discussing, but a new world view or perspective adds more possibilities.

Participating in a book club affords you a unique opportunity to check out books you wouldn't normally read. As Haruki Murakami said, "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."

Book Selections to Get You Started 

To give you a head start and perhaps a list to refer back to if you get stuck trying to find good books to read, we've curated a list of some favorite books we've discussed in our own book clubs. We've also included a Festival of Books section, providing you the rare opportunity this fall to read and discuss a book and meet the author who wrote it.

South Dakota Festival of Books Selections

Here are just a few of the many books from our 2018 Festival of Books authors which your book club will want to dive into prior to the There is much more where this came from; read more about our 2018 Brookings and Sioux Falls Festival events here.

  • "Informing the News" by Thomas J. Patterson (non-fiction): Available in our lending library for a $50 application fee, Patterson's thoroughly researched examination of news processes and procedures is very relatable to the modern political/media situation of proliferating news sources and "fake news" claims. Patterson recommends a fresh style of journalism with less emphasis on the nuts and bolts of reporting and more emphasis on knowledge.

  • "Desolation Mountain" by William Kent Krueger (fiction): Perennial festival favorite Krueger brings readers another fascinating chapter in the ongoing saga of detective Cork O'Connor, the part Irish, part Ojibwe former sheriff of Tamarack County. O'Connor and his Stephen team up to find out the truth behind the tragic yet mysterious plane crash of a senator on Desolation Mountain. If you're looking for an intriguing mystery, checking the list of William Kent Krueger books is a good idea.

  • "The Journey of Crazy Horse" by Joseph Marshall III (non-fiction): Available in our lending library, where you can find our former One Book selections for a $50 application fee, Marshall's "The Journey of Crazy Horse" looks at the life of the iconic Oglala Lakota hero who, while best known for his prowess on the battlefield, represents struggles faced by so many in the early years of our territory. Marshall captures the life and times of one of our state's most revered men, providing insight into the historical contexts that formed his character and beliefs, and later shaped him into a leader. Read "The Journey" to prepare for Marshall's appearance at the 2018 Brookings event, where he will feature his follow-up book for young readers, "In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse."

  • "Little Broken Things" by Nicole Baart (fiction): This is an engrossing and suspenseful novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Amy Hatvany about an affluent suburban family whose carefully constructed facade starts to come apart with the unexpected arrival of an endangered young girl. It's a fast read that also offers fodder for discussion of family relationships, addiction, childhood trauma, and more.

  • "Born Criminal" by Angelica Shirley Carpenter (non-fiction): Radical, feminist, writer, suffragist—Matilda Joslyn Gage changed the course of history, fighting for equal rights. Yet her name has faded into obscurity while her comrades, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, are celebrated. Commemorate the centennial of women's suffrage with this book from the South Dakota Historical Society Press.
William Kent Krueger was the 2015 One Book SD Author.

William Kent Krueger discusses "Ordinary Grace" at a South Dakota Festival of Books event. The 2015 One Book SD author will be at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books, which features events in Brookings and Sioux Falls.

SDHC Picks

Here are some specialized picks from South Dakota Humanities Council staff.

  • "Tribes" by Sebastian Junger (non-fiction): Junger's book nails two important selection criteria for book clubs: it's infinitely discussable and short. His 182-page book argues that modern day America lacks the sense of interconnectivity experienced by the native tribes that populated the earth before the United States was established. Brief and astounding, "Tribes" is a quick read that your club can talk about for hours.

  • "Look Homeward, Angel" by Thomas Wolfe (fiction): Wolfe's 529-page debut pushes the boundaries of our length limit, but if your club appreciates profound prose, you won't want to pass up this gem by the early 20th century North Carolina author. His mind-blowing narrative does things like get inside the head of an infant.

  • "A Lesson Before Dying" by Earnest Gaines (fiction): Gaines' concise account of a wrongly-accused man who learns more in the last few months of his life than he had in his previous years on the planet is thought-provoking account that has modern-day implications on race and civility.

  • "Rebecca" by Dame Daphne du Maurier (fiction): du Maurier sends you down a thrilling path of mystery and virtuous romance found in other gothic novels like "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë. du Maurier's book provides the kind of escapism you may seek in our feverishly digital society. If you like "Rebecca" you may also want to check out Emilie Loring, a prolific novelist who penned 50 novels during her 50 years on Earth.

  • "My Ántonia" by Willa Cather (fiction, available in lending library): First published in 1918, Cather's novel of frontier life in Nebraska is just as relevant and compelling today. "My Ántonia" was selected as South Dakota's Big Read book for 2007.

  • "Redeployment" by Phil Klay (non-fiction, available in lending library): The 12 stories in "Redeployment" combine to give a panoramic view of modern war and its human consequences. In November 2014, only two months after Klay was a featured presenter at the South Dakota Festival of Books, "Redeployment" was named winner of the National Book Award in Fiction.

Find Unique Perspectives in SDHC Library

The best book club books have a unique perspective. Such options abound in the SDHC Lending Library, where you can explore anything from the Quran to South Dakota One Room Country Schools.

With a diverse selection of good books to read, the South Dakota Humanities Council offers the Book Club to Go packaged reading program for book clubs or other interested groups.

Whether the events are organized by individuals or by organizations, the Book Club to Go provides up to 30 copies of any title from the council's lending library and an SDHC scholar, if desired, to lead a book discussion. For a $50 application fee, the group gains access to any of the council's 70-plus titles. For more information on the application and requirements, click the button below.