Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

13 Books That Will Start Debate In Your Book Club

Nothing is more dreary than a book club where everyone agrees all the time. I mean, you don’t want punches thrown or anything, but a good-spirited lively debate is the dream. And for that kind of conversation, you need to pick the right kind of book. It’s not about having everyone like it, it’s about everyone having something to say about it, one way or the other. Here are my suggestions to get the ball rolling: 13 books that will start debate in your book club.

13 Books Guaranteed To Start Debate In Your Book Club - Text Overlaid on Image of People Gathered and Reading - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is the classic Pandora’s box story. In The Husband’s Secret, a woman finds an envelope written in her husband’s hand, that says she is only to open it in the event of his death… but he’s still alive. Would you open it, or would you let him keep his secrets? And, if you reached for the letter-opener, what would you do with its contents? You’ll be surprised how much you learn about your fellow book club members when you put these questions to them. Plus, Liane Moriarty’s books are super-readable, so no one should struggle to get it done on time. Read my full review of The Husband’s Secret here.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Everyone will agree that something has gone terribly wrong in Eva’s family, but that’s probably where the consensus about We Need To Talk About Kevin will end. Is Eva a bad mother? Is Kevin a bad kid? Where do we draw the line between nature and nurture? Can one fix the other? It’s a confronting story, but it’s one that’s sure to get people talking. Be sure to share a few trigger warnings (for violence and related trauma) before everyone dives in. Read my full review of We Need To Talk About Kevin here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Now, I’m hesitant to say too much about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, because I can’t bear the thought of spoiling the plot twist for the uninitiated. So, the first (safe) question I would ask is this: who saw it coming? (And I’m very sure anyone who says they did is lying!) Follow up: was it a good twist, or a bad one? And there are plenty of other questions raised by this Booker Prize nominee, but to find them you’ll have to read it for yourself. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

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Make sure you stock up on tissues! Sophie’s Choice is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching read, guaranteed to elicit some strong feelings from even the stoniest-hearted members of your book club. Even though the title only offers the singular, in reality Sophie makes a number of choices along the way, which means you can ask the same question a dozen times and get different answers: would you have made the same choice? What other choices could Sophie have made?

The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Age Of Innocence is a very subtle novel, and many people give up on it. For those who persist, however, it raises a lot of interesting questions about the roles of women, even in today’s society. Are you Team May Welland, or Team Countess Olenska? How has our perception of their behaviour changed since the book was first published? Read my full review of The Age Of Innocence here.

Honourable Mention: A lot of these same questions could be asked of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It’s a quicker read, and much more light-hearted, if your book club is more inclined to those choices. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things To Me - Rebecca Solnit - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of gender roles: this is an evocative title to suggest for mixed company, so unless you’ve assembled an open-minded and/or left-leaning book club, prepare for fireworks! In Men Explain Things To Me, Solnit explores through a series of comic essays the ways in which men and women speak to one another. It’s sure to elicit some amazing anecdotes from the other attendees, if nothing else!

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R R Martin - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Game Of Thrones is a longer book than most clubs would normally read, but (almost) everyone is already familiar with the story thanks to the hugely successful HBO adaptation, which makes it a much quicker read than other lengthy tomes. And there’s your first grenade: try asking whether anyone thinks the book is better than the show! If that doesn’t get things started (fat chance), ask: who deserves the Iron Throne?  And let the games begin! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Little Fires Everywhere is a book with no minor characters. Everyone has a unique viewpoint, and all of them are a shade of grey. That means that everyone in your book club will relate to them differently, and will be able to mount a legitimate case for their preferred narrative. Who chose right, and who chose wrong? You’ll stay up all night hashing it out! Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

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This one is not for the faint of heart If members of your book club would normally shy away from profanity, or smut, or even just crude comedy, they’re going to have a lot of strong opinions about Portnoy’s Complaint. But that’s the idea, remember? Enjoy debating the relative merits of Roth’s particular brand of comedy. Read my full review of Portnoy’s Complaint here.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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The Immortalists raises many interesting questions, but surely the most pressing (and the most interesting for your book club) is the one that’s laid out on the cover. Would you want to know the date of your own death? And, if you did, how would you choose to live? In Chloe Benjamin’s beautiful novel, four adolescents are faced with that very question, and each of them handle it very differently. Are you inclined to search for love? Security? Longevity? Everyone in your book club will have a different answer – that’s the fun!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Try taking everyone in your book club back to the books you read in high-school. It gives you the chance to ask the attendees questions like: do they like it more or less than they did back then? Do the first-timers feel differently to the re-readers? And even above and beyond the nostalgic elements, To Kill A Mockingbird ticks a lot of debate-starter boxes: social justice, race in America, you name it. Does it hold up? Or has it aged past relevance? And, if nothing else, the themed cocktails practically mix themselves. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power - Naomi Alderman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Technically, this is a young adult novel, so that alone might make it a somewhat controversial choice for an adult book club. But, I don’t mind telling you, it is the adultiest young-adult book I’ve ever read! Make sure everyone holds fire on their opinions until they’ve read it – The Power could change a few hearts and minds. In Alderman’s dystopian world, women gain an incredible physical power that gives them, for the first time in history, a physical, political, and social advantage. How would that change the world? Is it for the better, or worse? Debate and decide for yourselves 😉 Read my full review of The Power here.

The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James

The Turn Of The Screw - Henry James - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let’s end on a fun note: a ghost story! The Turn Of The Screw is the perfect book to read with your book club around Halloween. It’s short, but meaty, and it leaves just enough of a mystery dangling to start debate in your book club. Are ghosts real? Or is the governess who sees them just… crazy? What’s been lost in the translation of a story within a story? And why the heck was Henry James so wordy?? Read my full review of The Turn Of The Screw here.

Bonus points: You could pair this one with the contemporary adaptation The Turn Of The Key, by Ruth Ware.

That should be enough to keep your book club meetings lively for the next year or so: my work here is done! What book has sparked debate in your book club? Add it to the list in the comments (or over at KUWTP on Facebook!).


  1. My neighborhood book club read The Husband’s Secret, and it definitely sparked plenty of discussion. I think I’ll have to keep this list handy for our next book club night.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      July 15, 2019 at 1:40 PM

      Oh, brilliant! 😍 Would love to hear how it goes if you end up choosing one 😉❤️

  2. Phyllis Stone

    May 22, 2023 at 4:41 AM

    “ The Honey. Bus”, by Meredith May was a book that our club enjoyed immensely. Not only did we learn about bees, but there was much discussion about parenting – different ways of raising children , protecting them, keeping them safe, teaching them confidence and self-reliance. Also discussions about disfunctional relationships

  3. I will never forget the book “We need to talk about Kevin”. An amazing story and it will stay with me for life. The mother was incredible.

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