By February 28, 2018 1 Comments Read More →

Rogue Book Group Choices

Is your book group in a rut? Are folks sick of reading World War II-era historical fiction? Is your attendance dwindling? Maybe it’s time to go rogue.

We hosted a live event (sponsored by NoveList) where we gathered some book-group experts to talk about what makes a good selection, how to pick something unexpected for your group without causing a mass exodus, and lots and lots of suggestions for when you want to take your book group rogue. You can watch the full video of the event here—and hear why Liz Kirchhoff from Barrington Area Library, Kathy Sexton from Skokie Public Library, and Katharine Solheim from Unabridged Books in Chicago chose each one. For those interested in going rogue, here’s a list of the books we talked about, with links to their Booklist reviews when available.


American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

A good starter graphic novel. Although geared toward children, adults will find much to discuss in the way Yang addresses different forms of Chinese and Chinese-American representation. Plus, the weird ending makes for some good discussion.


The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui

Pair these graphic novels about immigration; one has no words.


The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

This was a bestseller, which might spark curiosity. A great choice for groups that liked The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. May also generate discussion about the history of Russia and paganism versus Christianity.


Bintiby Nnedi Okorafor

Science fiction can be scary for book groups, but don’t be afraid, especially Black Panther piqued your interest. Binti is about space, sure, but it’s really about race and other meaty issues.


A Bollywood Affair, by Sonali Dev

A romance featuring an arranged marriage and an Indian celebrity. Don’t let the lightness of the story turn you off—there is a lot to talk about surrounding cultural expectations, especially for women.


Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

Dealing with aging parents is a familiar book group topic. This graphic novel includes art and photography that will enhance the conversation.


Dragonfish, by Vu Tran

A stretch because it’s a gritty police procedural—not the usual book group fare—but the setting and the detective’s baggage will give you lots to talk about.


Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

Like Binti, this is an Afro-futurist sci-fi book, plus steam punk and alternate history! So many genres. It will lead to discussions about prejudice, identity, colonialism, and even the structure of the story itself.


An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

Another romance that will provide discussion fodder for history buffs, since it takes place during the Civil War. It could also lead to a conversation about who gets to write history, with an African American heroine who also happens to be a war hero. Also a good choice for groups that enjoyed The House Girl by Tara Conklin or The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.


The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry
As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner

Women’s fiction and history might not be rogue by themselves, but pairing different approaches to the same topic—in this case, pandemic—can generate lots of new discussion.


H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald

A grief memoir that will also find a home with groups who enjoy natural history and literary criticism (think Annie Dillard).


How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon

Seventeen different perspectives on the shooting of a young African American. A provocative topic, a young adult novel, and a really nuanced book with a unique form that will generate much conversation.


If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

Another YA book that adult book groups might poo-poo. It’s a teen love story, but the heroine is a trans girl who starts her senior year at a new school where she can be herself. If your book group members like to gain new understanding of people they might not (think they) encounter in real life, this is a great choice.


Imperfect Bliss, by Susan Fales-Hill

A different approach to exploring race and class, this time with a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice in a Jamaican-American family. This could also be fun to read alongside the Austen original.


The Lonely City, by Olivia Laing

Pair with images of the artists discussed (Hopper, Warhol, Wojnarowicz); you can also talk about gentrification.


March: Book One, by John Lewis

Although memoirs of the Civil Rights Era are familiar book club terrain, this entry gains rogue status with its graphic novel form. A great way to ease into the genre.


Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi

The Brothers Grimm meet David Lynch! Folks may discuss the way society privileges certain voices over others and feminist themes or just unpack these playfully adapted fairy tales.


My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf

A graphic novel that will appeal to readers of true crime, memoir, psychological thrillers, and anyone who can’t drive past a wreck without unintentionally peeking. Plus, it was recently adapted into an independent film which may not have played at your local megaplex, so if you’ve got a book-and-movie group, this is definitely an edgy choice.


Muslim Girl, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

The author runs a website—a sort of updated Sassy magazine—for young Muslim women, and her memoir talks about representation, politics, and other hot-button topics in a no-holds-barred way. Memoirs are a good way to talk about these issues because they are so rooted in the author’s experience; this is another good choice for gaining a new perspective.


One of Us is Sleeping, by Josefine Klougart

A novel about grief, but it’s plotlessness lends itself to philosophical topics—definitely a book whose reading is enhanced by discussion.


The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan

A combination of short stories and essays, this will serve older book groups interested in understanding the elusive millennial. Plus, the late author’s spoken-word performances can be found online, which will add to your meeting.


Quicksand, by Carolyn Baugh

A thriller! But the author brings in issues of first-generation Americans, the economics of crime, and human trafficking, all discussion-friendly topics. (This book is also quite violent, though not gratuitously so.)


Speak, by Louisa Hall

Your group may spend some time sorting out what has actually happened in this book, which has lots of different perspectives and an interesting timeline. (Plus, it will make folks with an Amazon Alexa think.) This will work especially for groups that liked David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.


They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, by Hanif Abdurraqib

A book of music criticism that delves into artists’ culture, intersectionality, and consumerism, and how race and class inform taste. (Warning: ugly cry potential.)


The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons, by Sam Kean

Nonfiction that reads like fiction for groups who like Oliver Sacks (although this is more joke-y).


Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, by Juliann Garey

This story of a man who walks away from his life will generate discussion about unreliable narrators and mental illness.


Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang

A funny book—how rogue to discuss a book that is not a bummer! Plus, it’s a road trip novel and an immigrant story with lots of different pieces to discuss. If your group likes books with family issues—think The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney—this will be a fun one.


And, for further resources:

ALA’s Book Club Central

Booklist Online, particularly Top 10 lists and Core Collections

NoveList (to which your library probably subscribes)'

About the Author:

I am the Senior Editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach. Holla!

1 Comment on "Rogue Book Group Choices"

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  1.' Donna Tollett says:

    This an amazing collection of reads! I love the Rogue Book Group idea and it sounds like something our book club might do next year. Thank you for this!!

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