The best books to pick for book club

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer by profession, but until recently I was never in a book club. My wife was, briefly, and my friend Ben’s wife was (he’s also a writer). One day I said to Ben “why don’t we start a book club?”, and we did. Seven years later, the club is not only going strong, but it has assumed a central place in the lives of the seven of us who make it up. The book is the excuse to get together, to create and deepen friendships, to build a community around ideas. Start a book club. Choose some books. These are a good start. At least in my opinion.


I wrote...

The Future Is Analog: How to Create a More Human World

By David Sax,

Book cover of The Future Is Analog: How to Create a More Human World

What is my book about?

The beloved author of The Revenge of Analog lays out a case for a human future—not the false technological utopia we've been living. As David Sax argues in this insightful book, we've also had our eyes opened. There is nothing about the future that has to be digital, and embracing the reality of human experience doesn't mean resisting change. In chapters exploring work, school, leisure, and more, Sax asks perceptive and pointed questions: what happens to struggling students when they're not in a classroom? If our software is built for productivity, who tends to the social and cultural aspects of our jobs? Can you have religion without community?

This book suggests that if we want a healthy future, we need to choose not convenience but community, not technology but humanity.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

David Sax Why did I love this book?

Once in a while, a book club lands on a pick that is so universally loved, so joyous and fun, that its joys resonate out for years, and bond the club in the ongoing conversation, inside jokes, and memories of reading and discussing that book. A Confederacy of Dunces was that book for my club. We read it right before the pandemic, and the laughter from that night, as we read the absurd, offensive, brilliant passages aloud, over gumbo, and bourbon, carried me through the darkest days locked inside. This book is wild, and yet it delivers, with a cast of unredeemable characters and anti-heroes, and a tale of decadent antics that earned it the legendary status it holds onto, half a century later. A crowd-pleasing, hilarious classic for good reason. Keep it in your pocket when everyone in the club needs a pickup.

By John Kennedy Toole,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked A Confederacy of Dunces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF THE BBC'S 100 NOVELS THAT SHAPED OUR WORLD

'This is probably my favourite book of all time' Billy Connolly

A pithy, laugh-out-loud story following John Kennedy Toole's larger-than-life Ignatius J. Reilly, floundering his way through 1960s New Orleans, beautifully resigned with cover art by Gary Taxali
_____________

'This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians . . . don't make the mistake of bothering me.'

Ignatius J. Reilly: fat, flatulent, eloquent and almost unemployable. By the standards of ordinary folk he is pretty much…


Book cover of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

David Sax Why did I love this book?

I have always been fascinated with Russia, and love reading any book about Russia and Russians, whether the classic fiction of Dostoyevsky, or the absurdist work of Gary Shteyngart. But for insightful political analysis of Putin’s destruction of Russia’s democracy and society, written with a love for the people and country, and a keen eye toward their humanity, nothing beats this dead-eyed read from the great Masha Gessen. Her analysis of modern Russia under Putin’s grip came out a few years before the invasion of Ukraine, which is sort of a culmination of the ideas and stories here. This book is a portrait of individual tragedies woven together as a collective, where the historical resentments of one man (Putin) doom the future of an entire people. If you want to understand how Russia got here. Or what it might feel like to be a young Russian, caught up in this hell, this is a good place to start. Bonus points if your book club discusses the book in a banya (a Russian bathhouse, which exists in most major cities with a sizeable Russian émigré population). 

By Masha Gessen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Future Is History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Future is History Masha Gessen follows the lives of four Russians, born as the Soviet Union crumbled, at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children or grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own - as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers and writers, sexual and social beings. Gessen charts their paths not only against the machinations of the regime that would seek to crush them all (censorship, intimidation, violence) but also against the war it waged on understanding itself, ensuring…


Book cover of Crossing to Safety

David Sax Why did I love this book?

Often, there’s a bias when picking book club books to go big. Big stories. Big titles. Epics. Challenges. But sometimes, the best read is something smaller. Shorter. More personal. Crossing to Safety is a book like that…a perfect, beautifully written story about the friendship between two couples over the course of their lives. Read this book, and inevitably the book club discussion will turn to the very nature of your own relationships, friendships, and how those evolve and change over the decades, as people age, circumstances change, and the bonds are tested. There aren’t a lot of books in our club over the years that were universally loved, but this one was up there. 

By Wallace Stegner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Crossing to Safety as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel of the friendships and woes of two couples, which tells the story of their lives in lyrical, evocative prose by one of the finest American writers of the late 20th century.

When two young couples meet for the first time during the Great Depression, they quickly find they have much in common: Charity Lang and Sally Morgan are both pregnant, while their husbands Sid and Larry both have jobs in the English department at the University of Wisconsin. Immediately a lifelong friendship is born, which becomes increasingly complex as they share decades of love, loyalty, vulnerability and conflict.…


Book cover of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

David Sax Why did I love this book?

Many people will talk about Michael Pollan’s ideas, but not actually read his books. This goes for people who have read interviews with him or articles by him, and a whole cadre of young men in business who listen to podcasts at twice the recorded speed. They will tell you they don’t have time to read his big books, and they got the ideas from these interviews, but they are wrong. Michael Pollan is many things. An amazing thinker. A prescient analyst of unfolding future trends (invest in whatever he’s writing about). A keen observer of science, and a talented journalist. But more than anything, the man is just a baller of a writer, and his books are a master class in how topical non-fiction should be done.

This book is incredibly challenging. There are dense pages of neuroscience, and long passages about chemistry and the brain that had me rereading, but there is magic here, and it is irresistible. Pollan reopens the debate around the medical and long-term value of psychedelic drugs, and he does it with humor, passion, rigor, and humanity. Will you want to take LSD or mushrooms after reading this book? Probably. But even if you don’t, your mind will already be changed. That’s how powerful this book is. It’s a good dose of fabulous writing with a mission, and it’s a trip worth taking.

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked How to Change Your Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now on Netflix as a 4-part documentary series!

"Pollan keeps you turning the pages . . . cleareyed and assured." -New York Times

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018, and New York Times Notable Book

A brilliant and brave investigation into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs--and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences

When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such…


Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

David Sax Why did I love this book?

Science fiction, for those who don’t read it regularly, can seem decadent and superfluous. What’s with all these ridiculous names and funny descriptions? Why do we need all this? But the good stuff (and Le Guin is possibly the best there was) uses all that unrestricted fiction to make a bigger point. The Left Hand of Darkness is a book about two worlds on the same planet, a sort of cold war analogy, complete with gulags and secret police. But the heart of this story is a very modern meditation on gender. In this world, gender is a very fluid concept. And that truth, as it collides with the circumstances unfolding in the plot, makes for a terrific launch pad for discussing gender and its role in our contemporary world. Read it with the most open mind, and you will be richly rewarded. 

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Left Hand of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION-WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY DAVID MITCHELL AND A NEW AFTERWORD BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction-winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants' gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an…


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Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

Book cover of Empire in the Sand

Shane Joseph Author Of Empire in the Sand

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a writer for more than twenty years and have favored pursuing “truth in fiction” rather than “money in formula.” I also spent over thirty years in the corporate world and was exposed to many situations reminiscent of those described in my fiction and in these recommended books. While I support enterprise, “enlightened capitalism” is preferable to the bare-knuckle type we have today, and which seems to resurface whenever regulation weakens. I also find writing novels closer to my lived experience connects me intimately with readers who are looking for socio-political, realist literature.

Shane's book list on exposing corporate, political, and personal corruption

What is my book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis.

His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election. Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian beekeeper living on Vancouver Island hold the key to Avery’s recovery, a man holding secrets that put lives in jeopardy? Avery races across the country to find out, with crooked bosses, politicians, and assassins on his tail. Joseph spins a cautionary tale of corporate and political greed that is endemic to our times.

Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

What is this book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis. His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election.

Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian bee keeper living on Vancouver Island hold…


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