Would it surprise you to learn I don’t have a single favorite book of all time? As any true bibliophile knows, asking a book worm to choose a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It’s just not done.
Even choosing a list of favorites is almost impossible. The only way I can pick favorites is by having a clear purpose. So here you have my favorite books for Catholic book clubs. You’ll find a mix of classics and modern classics and a few quirky little known titles. In a book club, the main criterion is that the book provokes a good discussion, so don’t be surprised to see controversial titles on here!
7 Classic Books for your Book Club
Evelyn Waugh’s classic story about Charles Ryder’s unexpected conversion is sure to spark a lively discussion. Does he convert due to the troubled Catholic family he meets or despite them?
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Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter is a lovely, thoughtful social commentary on the evolution and disappearance of family farming over the course of one woman’s life. Bittersweet and thought-provoking, this is one of the best books I read this year.
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This accessible Russian classic is a lengthy but very rewarding story of sin and redemption.
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Love it or hate it, Kristin Lavansdatter is a Scandinavian classic. Every woman identifies with some of Kristin’s struggles, joys, sins, disappointments, and atonement.
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Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a sweeping American generational story. His very realistic characters plumb the depths of sin yet show the flashes of grace in everyday life. For a much shorter yet equally gripping Steinbeck novel, try The Pearl.
Consider Golden Age of Mystery detective story writers like Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie for a lighter classic book club pick. Gaudy Night is often called Dorothy Sayers’ best work. Agatha Christie said one of her favorite mysteries was Crooked house.
Here’s an early example of dystopian literature that is particularly relevant today. Bradbury’s creepy yet captivating story about freedom of speech and thought is as timely now as when it was published.
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7 Christian Classics for your Book club
A love story, a conversion story, and a story of loss: this book is complex and beautiful. Perfect for fans of C. S. Lewis!
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Speaking of C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite books is his retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth in Till We Have Faces. This book inspired one of the best discussion nights at my book club!
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One more C. S. Lewis book! If you are looking for a shorter allegorical type book, The Great Divorce is a fine contribution to the tradition of spiritual journey books such as The Divine Comedy.
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Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In this House of Brede are two Rumer Godden books guaranteed to thrill and surprise you. Soaring stories with deep insight into human nature. Check out my review of Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy here!
G. K. Chesterton’s name is synonymous with perfect paradoxes and incredible ingenuity in imagination in the best literary circles. For a first foray into this masterful Catholic writer’s fiction, try Manalive or The Man Who was Thursday. For non-fiction, I recommend trying The Everlasting Man.
The beloved Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux is brought to Catholics in a reader-friendly meditation style in I Believe in Love. This makes a lovely book to read during Lent, Advent, or any time you desire a spiritual classic.
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Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of Godis one of the most lovely and transformative Marian books I’ve ever read.
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7 Non-fiction Titles for your Book Club
Quiet was a transformative book for me in accepting and even embracing my identity as an introvert. I recommend it for a book club that likes science-backed books. Introverted Mom is a similar introvert-focused book with a more personal, feelings-based flavor. For a full review of Introverted Mom click here!
The Girl with the Seven Names is a saddening, surprising, enlightening book about what it’s really like to grow up in North Korea. This is a great contemporary book pick that highlights current day issues.
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I’ve read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books with great interest. You may find yourself disagreeing with his conclusions at times, but Outliers, Blink, and his other books are fascinating and may startle you out of preconceptions about how success is achieved, how we make decisions, and more.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks highlights ethical and racial issues in American medicine. Sure to generate a spirited discussion!
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Boys in the Boat is a quintessential American success story about nine working class young men who are determined to beat the odds and win a rowing gold in the 1936 Olympics.
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J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a modern day Cinderella story. This young man from a broken, addiction-ridden family succeeded in attending Harvard Law. Vance’s thought-provoking take on Appalachian America problems is balanced by his obvious love for his region and family. Quite a bit of language and domestic violence.
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7 Contemporary Fiction Titles for your Book Club
A Man Called Ove is one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the cover. An isolated elderly man has just decided to commit suicide when his friendly neighbors move in and turn his life upside down. A little crass, some language, but still very worth reading.
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is quickly becoming a modern day classic. This charming story pulls at your heart strings, and every book club will love the themes about books changing the course of peoples’ lives.
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A Russian aristocrat is told he must live the rest of his life in a luxury hotel. Great themes about friendship, isolation, civility, and community.
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This lyrical bestseller by Delia Owens is such a beautifully written book I had to include it despite some reservations. Pros: gripping coming of age story about an isolated child in the swamps; beautiful language and tribute to the beauty of creation. Cons: unnecessary sensuality and sex scene, not integral to plot and easily skipped.
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The Nightingale is a book that delves deep into the horror of life in occupied France during World War II. But it’s also a celebration of the strength and courage of the French women who helped win the war in diverse ways.
Trigger warning: lots of violence, rape, a little language.
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One last WWII novel! All the Light We Cannot See is a fascinating story about two children, one French and one German, growing up in the years leading up to WWII. A clever juxtaposition of their points of view carries the story towards their inevitable meeting in occupied France.
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In this unexpected novel by a Spanish author, a typical young woman comes to an eccentric town that seems to exist outside of (or in spite of) the modern world. Lots to unpack in this book about distributism, classical education, the role of women and men, and more.
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