Starting a book club is a great way to share your love of reading and stay socially engaged. There are some basic things to figure out such as the logistics of times, dates, locations and technology. Then there is the crucial questions of club theme and book selection. What will you read? There are millions of books to choose from and everyone has their opinion about the best ones to share with the group. This list of 10 unique book club themes for 2020 is a great place to start.
Why an innovative theme is important
One way to bring some order to the chaos is to have a theme for your book club. Most clubs, and I’ll go out on a limb and say all successful ones, have a theme. It helps you to generate ideas and narrow from millions, to thousands, to hundreds, and eventually to twelve monthly selections.
I’m not saying it makes it simple, it doesn’t. Within most themes there are more books than any reader can possibly get through in a lifetime. But, if you identify your theme and niche it down to a clearly defined library of selections, it becomes doable.
For example, if you chose Best Sellers as your theme, it would be too broad. Which Best Sellers list? The New York Times? Publishers Weekly? Amazon? Or what about Oprah’s Book Club? And what years are you including? Should it be just domestic books or do international titles count as well? Fiction or non-fiction?
As you can see, identifying your theme as “Best Sellers” does little to reduce the haystack to the needle.
In order to make a theme useful, it must be limited.
Let’s look at some ways to make the theme “Best Sellers” a useful category. How about “Books from the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list 2015 – current”? Or “Oprah’s Book Club selections 2000 to today”? Either of these precisely defined themes is innovative and will give you plenty of books to chose from.
Starting a book club is easy! Doing so during the Coronavirus pandemic may lead to some extra challenges but it can still be done. It’s one of many social activities that you can continue if you take the necessary precautions.
What is the right theme for your book club?
Here are ten fun ideas for your club.
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New York Times Fiction Best Sellers Lists of the past decade
This is one of the most popular book club themes. Read the best sellers that everyone’s been talking about. This best sellers list includes a wide range of fiction ensuring there is something for everyone! Some recent top picks are:
Educated, Tara Westover (one of my current favorites!)
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
Literary Pursuit 2010 – 2020
For the more serious book clubs a literary theme is ideal. Find modern masterpieces and discuss. An alternate on this theme is “Top 50 Literary Fiction Titles of All Time”. Another is “Novels by The Masters Pre-1950”. With so many great works in this category, the variations are almost endless. Some options for this theme are:
The Lying Life of Adults, Elena Ferrante
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Weather, Jenny Offill
Movies That Don’t Live Up to the Book
How many times have your devoured a book then jumped with glee when you learned a movie was being made only to be terribly disappointed by the film adaptation? It’s happened to all of us. In fact, it happens so often that there are plenty of books to fill out this theme including:
Another spin on this would be to read titles that were better on the big screen. This would certainly be a unique book club theme!
Travel the World
The creation of Amazon Prime and digital books made international titles readily available to most readers. This is one of my favorite categories because it opens up new worlds and perspectives. I never walk away from reading a book set in another country without learning something new and often profound. If you’re struggling to pick a theme that everyone will find interesting and your club leans more towards serious reading than socializing, this could be the category for you. Here are a few titles to get you started.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Close the shades, grab a glass or your favorite beverage, and dig into a stack of banned books. Books are banned for many reasons from sex to violence to religion to drug use. Whatever the reason, the ban reflects cultural norms and movements of the time. There is much to learn by reading what was once considered taboo. These books give us a glimpse into society and the controversies that shaped our current reality. Not to mention, some of them are downright fiery!
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Beloved, Toni Morrison
While this may not immediately seem like a unique book club theme, it can be. Reading classic literature enriches your world. It’s as simple as that. It gives you a glance into another place and time through the eyes of the characters and is another popular book club theme. Unlike studying history, geography, or culture through a text book or lecture, literature shows you these things through a character’s eyes. Could a classroom discussion about 19th century Russian society ever touch the impression that “War and Peace” leaves on a reader? I think not. Is it possible for a text to teach your more than Victor Hugo shows us about the human reality during the Paris Uprising of the 1830s? Doubtful.
The list of classics is, by definition, limited but there are plenty to keep you reading for years to come. Here a few to start with:
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
It’s All in a Name, Or in This Case a Number
It is surprising how many books you’ll find that have a number in the title. Narrowing this fun theme theme down may be harder than you think. I am a numbers person so I chose a numeric as my category but you could easily substitute a particular word, shape, color, etc. for your theme. Three loved number tiles to being with are:
In Five Years, Rebecca Serle
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
One Hit Wonders
I’m sure you’ve heard of “One hit wonder” bands but did you know that they also exist for authors? When an author has one, and only one, knock-it-out-of-the=park novel, that’s a one hit wonder. You’ll be shocked by some of the most famous one hit wonders listed here:
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
In the Beginning
Sometimes the first is the best. If you’re a fan of Patricia Cornwell, you know where I’m coming from. The great thing about this theme is that all published authors have a debut book so it’s an expansive category and another one that promises to please everyone. If you need some suggestion to get you started, try these:
The Illness Lesson, Clare Beams
Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart
Insert Your Favorite Genre Here _______________
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Genre fiction covers a wide array of areas from romance to mysteries, thrillers to historical fiction to sci fi and beyond. And within each of these genres are sub-genres so you can focus even further on a truly unique book club theme. You could limit by year, the first letter of the author’s last name, sub-genre, or setting. A few different examples are:
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Themes can be rich even when niched down. It may take a bit of time to plan your theme and identify the universe of titles within that theme but the legwork will be worth it in the end. Your club will be built on a solid foundation with a direction for years to come.