Books to Start an Argument

Books are an incredibly personal thing. Taste is highly subjective when it comes to what moves us, what stirs up long-dormant emotions, and what inspires outright loathing.

It is for all those reasons that choosing the next title for a book group/club can seem incredibly daunting to many people.

Some clubs have thematic guidelines (e.g. mystery, women authors, prize winners, Queen Oprah’s picks) that help them hone in on the next read, but not every group is that easy to choose for.

When I get asked in the store for book group recommendations, after honing in some of the favorite past book selections, I always aim to provide something discussion worthy. That is the point of a book group after all, an excuse to get together, imbibe your preferred liquid poison, and discuss books.

If you’re struggling to come up with your next book group choice, or if you just want something really interesting to bring up at the office, I’ve compiled some of my top recommendations for getting a lively (though hopefully non-violent) discussion going.

Front Cover

My Uncle Oswald

by Roald Dahl

Did you know that your favorite author of beloved children’s tales like


and many more is the author of amazing adult fiction that contains enough smut to put some of the best erotica to shame? I simply love seeing people discover a different side to an author they thought they knew so well and to read the magic he weaved with words take place through an adult topic and with adult eyes. The discussions that follow will be hysterical, nostalgic and a little bit steamy.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

by Italo Calvino

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Italians are weird. Wonderfully weird. When I first read this book it was as part of a book group and I hated it. Then something magical happened, as we sat around discussing why we all thought the book was odd, confusing, overrated I realized that our criticisms were morphing into praise. The second-person point of view went from being a nuisance to being novel. The alternating jumps between incomplete short stories to a narrative being addressed directly to you, The Reader, went from being uncomfortable to truly unique. The twist was pure genius and we all had a favorite chapter. Any book that I hate and then love so hard I recommend it to everyone and has inspired me to read all the Italian books I can get my hands on will surely be a hit at your next book group.

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity 

by Emily Matchar

Half my friends still hate this book with a zealous passion. The other half, a half that includes me, find it eye-opening and useful in compiling our thoughts and feelings about the continuing evolution of our generation which is enamored with heritage and the past while having our lives integrated with technology our grandparents could never have imagined. It’s an important book for the conversation on modern feminism. It’s a book that will start many important, possibly hostile conversations.

Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love

by Elizabeth Prioleau

This and her newest, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, are both well-researched but not at all dry examinations of gender and attraction. They work to debunk the Hollywood myths that surround beauty and desirability. I often choose one of these for people who have mixed-gender book groups because I know the discussions they inspire between men and women can lead to some amazing moments of honesty.


Hawthorn & Child

by Keith Ridgway

You’ll spend the first half of this novel trying to figure out if you’re reading a ghost story or detective noir. Then you’ll spend the second half marvelling at the sneaky way Keith Ridgway has developed such intriguing characters and woven such a suspenseful plot. When you’re turned the last page you’ll either being irate or enamored forever. This isn’t a crime novel. This book has no ending. This book is about capturing a snapshot of lives as they happen. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you start discussing your frustrations and then move on to what Ridgway has managed to tell you about yourself through it all.

The Casual Vacancy

by J. K. Rowling

Much like Dahl, I think this or The Cuckoo’s Calling will make excellent discussion books purely for dissecting an author outside of their better known domain of children’s fiction. Rowling’s voice is incredibly distinct. The Casual Vacancy offers up even more discussion with its beautiful and in depth dissection of social issues in England, that are eerily reminiscent to our American ones, and of familial relationships.

Short story collections

Whether it’s Lorrie Moore

George Saunders

Karen Russell

Sarah Hall

James Joyce

Manuel Gonzales

…or any of the other superb short story collections available by a whole slew of talented writers you will have discussion for days. Every single person will prefer a different story. Everyone will have discovered a different overarching theme. And every reader will have disliked one particular story more than any of the others. Short story collections are also easier for many people to digest and fit into their busy schedules making these ideal for the less voracious readers in your group.


Any other books you’d suggest people read to start an argument great discussion?




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