Unusual and interesting books for a book club
What is a book club?
I love to read (as you'll see from the pile of books currently on my bedside table, waiting to be read - I'd be grateful if you pretend you don't see the dust - thank you) and I am fortunate enough to attend a regular local book club. And what a fantastic book club it is too. We often stay up ridiculously late, we drink too much wine and we talk about our lives, our kids and of course books! During my time at book club, I've read books by authors unheard of, or books I never would have dreamt of picking up off the shelf. And although some have not been to my taste, most have been incredible reads, on which I would otherwise have missed out.
We take turns to host book club, providing food of the high calorie sort, and everyone brings lots of wine. At each book club, we review the book from last time and the host gets to choose the next book for the group to read. I understand most book clubs to run in roughly this sort of way (although perhaps with slightly less wine than ours), with a review each time of the current book, usually a novel, but sometimes non-fiction or perhaps an autobiography.
I am known in our group for suggesting some weird and wonderful titles. Well, that's the kind of stuff I like. In fact I do tone it down a bit - I don't want to torture anyone with sci fi/fantasy books about telepathic horses or flensing dog aliens, much as I enjoyed them myself.
I try to offer books which are well written and whose narrative voice draws me in, as well as being of the 'enhanced realities' genre. Most have gone down pretty well, and have been books that people otherwise would never have picked up. And surely that's the whole point of a book club, apart from the hefty drinking of course!
So here are my top 5 best books, with an unusual twist, to recommend for a book group. As well as being in this top 5, a few of them would also be in my all-time favourite 'top 5 best novels ever' list. All are wonderful books which are well worth a read, whether for a book club or just your own personal interest and enjoyment. Why not pick the one you like the sound of best and give it a go!
#1: The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas - One of my all time favourite books, ever
A cracking yarn!
This is a clever book which brings together philosophy, spirituality, physics, strong coffee and a brilliant, page-turning story.
Why The End of Mr Y is such a fantastic novel
My Dad passed me this book first. He'd been collecting a list of recommended reading provided by The Guardian newspaper (in the UK). He's always got a pile of about 40 books waiting to be read at any one time. So he regularly offers me first refusal on some selected titles he thinks I might enjoy and boy - this was the best one yet. The End of Mr Y is about a book that is cursed. Everyone who reads it disappears. Our heroine finds the book, after years of searching and finds out the truth behind the disappearances.
And the truth is, well I won't spoil it for you by laying it all out here, but it's a mysterious foray into the nature of reality. The story cracks on nicely, whilst idea after idea is thrown up about physics, thought and matter and even spirituality. It's a very intelligent book and I swear I made myself cleverer-er by reading it. Scarlett Thomas often injects some incredibly thoroughly researched sub plots and topics into her books, which make them even more unusual and interesting.
This book went down pretty well at our book club, I think, despite being of the magic realism/enhanced realities genre. I think people relate to a damn good story, even if it is fantastical in parts. You can't help but be drawn in by a well-written, thoughtful novel, especially when it's such a page turner. This was one of the best books I recommended to our book club, I'd say.
Do yourself a favour and have a look at this. Also (and I know it shouldn't matter) it has a really cool cover and the page edges are all black!
#2: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
I've never read anything quite like this. Clever, weird and warmly written, by a man who knows cats.
I felt that prickling horror, the one that comes when you realise the extent of something bad - if you're dangerously lost or you've made some terrible mistake - the reality of the situation creeping in through the back of your head like a pantomime Dracula.
Why The Raw Shark Texts is a winner
Yes it's a play on words
The line above sucked me right in. Pantomime Dracula. You couldn't ask for a clearer image and feel of what's going on for the main character there. The novel starts right with a punch to the gut and goes from there. Our hero comes to, gasping for breath and slowly, as described in the quote above, realises that he has no idea who/where he is. And so begins (continues?) his journey of self discovery as he pieces together what's happened to him via cryptic messages from himself in the past.
What follows is a thrilling read, as Steven Hall takes you on a sometimes quirky, sometimes horrific journey into the character's world, full of its own laws of reality and rules for staying alive. The writing is fantastic and the author's particular ability for the descriptive arts is extremely impressive, in a way that brings the characters (and Ian the cat) into vivid form in your mind.
This book caused a lot of discussion at our book club, not only about the realities presented in the book, but also about the character's sanity. And about the ending (which of course I won't reveal here). This made for good reading I'd say and was enjoyed by most.
I can usually remember very clearly how I came across a book, but I truly can't remember how this one came to me at all. Probably Dad again . . .
#3: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - not so weird but just as wonderful
This book is good for your soul.
The Book Thief - a beautiful, profound and life changing book
This novel was recommended by another book clubber, but can we just pretend that I thought of it first? Good.
I really don't know where to begin with The Book Thief. Maybe I should start by saying that I cried my way through the entire last chapter. Or that the book is narrated by Death. Or maybe that I learned something of what it was to be a German citizen during those dark days of WWII. What I really want to say most of all is that this is a book that gives you something. I felt like I'd been improved somehow, just by reading it.
This story finds courage and beauty amidst the horror and dark brutality of the nazi regime. What do good people do when they are surrounded by horror? How do they live, stay alive and maintain an undiminished and untarnished soul? And how do children make sense of a world at war? It makes for challenging reading, but offers beauty and hope as a reward.
This book is stunning. If you haven't read it, let me just tell you - it's your favourite novel.
#4: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This is a book that will stay with you, sneaking into your reality.
Cloud Atlas - a controversial book club choice
This novel was read at book club before I joined and I think pretty much everyone hated it. I had read it independently (probably on my Dad's recommendation!) before I started book club. I thought I hated it too, as I was reading it, but when I'd finished I realised that actually I'd loved it! It's a funny old sausage, this one. One of the most interesting thing is the structure of the book. It's made up of several different stories, which all interconnect in some way. Imagine opening a book to the centre pages, then laying another open book on top, then another on top of that and so on, so that the story which begins right at the start of the book is the story that finishes right at the end. And the middle story is the only one you can read all the way through without any other stories in between. Make sense?
The stories range from historical to futuristic and have a real sense of 'era' to them. And what's even more fascinating is that each story is in a completely different narrative voice. I really didn't like the first (and last) narrative voice but loved all the rest.
This book is on my list because of its vision, structure and unique style. A very different book.
#5: The Gate to Woman's Country by Sheri Tepper
A classic in feminist fantasy/sci fi.
The Gate to Woman's Country
My next recommended read?
I read this many years ago, when I was at University. And how I loved it. Sheri Tepper is a sci-fi/fantasy writer with an eco-feminist slant. I find some of her books a bit formulaic but this one is pure genius. It was one of my earliest sci-fi/fantasy reads. When I read this, it showed me the political wallop that sci-fi/fantasy can pack. By using complete freedom to create a world in which society's laws can be totally reinvented, this genre has the capacity to explore relevant topics in new and exciting ways and to deliver a strong statement, if the author chooses to do so (Sheri Tepper does indeed make this choice).
I haven't read any Sheri Tepper for a while but when I read her, I read her voraciously, devouring all she had to offer. It's a good bet that many of my long-established 'utopian dreams' have Sheri Tepper's ideas at their heart.
Unusual books - interesting authors - Check out their websites here
author's websites (or as close as I could find!)
- Website for Scarlett Thomas
Find out more about Scarlett Thomas and her fantastic novels.
- Website for Steven Hall
Check out Steven Hall's website here.
- Website for Markus Zusak
Find out about Markus Zusak and the other books he's written.
- Website for David Mitchell
Information about David Mitchell and his works.
- Website for Sheri Tepper
Check out Sheri Teppers vast catalogue of other writing here.
I like to read and I like to write - Check out one of my Flash Fiction Stories
Flash fiction is fun - and a challenge! Can you write exciting fiction with hardly any words at all? Have a look at my effort and then maybe have a go yourself!
- click here for my story and details of competitions YOU can enter
Flash fiction is sometimes called 'micro fiction' or 'postcard fiction' and is a story that is told in 500 words, or often much less!