What is the Best Nonfiction for Book Clubs?

What is the Best Nonfiction for Book Clubs?

Book clubs benefit from a dose of reality now and then—a break from fictional girls on trains and orphans on trains, from larger-than-life characters like Bernadette, Ove, and Miss Peregrine. Nonfiction can incite our imaginations, too, sparking important conversations about real people inhabiting our real world.

I’m turning the focus on nonfiction as two acclaimed nonfiction writers will soon pay a visit to my community: Erik Larson (hosted by the Huntsville Library Foundation) and Sarah Vowell (brought to us by WLRH, Huntsville’s Public Radio). These two writers showcase how nonfiction can and should work, albeit in different ways. Larson, author of Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, and more, weaves artful, page-turning stories out of real moments in time, while Vowell, author of Assassination Vacation, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Unfamiliar Fishes, to name a few, uses humor to reexamine history, culture, and the institutions that define America. Neither of these writers seems to run out of book-worthy topics, as they continue to turn out one compelling book after another.

If you’ve looked over The Snail’s inventory of Book Club Guides (printable topics and questions to take to your book club meetings), you’ll find the list is steadily filling with fiction. But you may also notice a dearth of nonfiction. It’s time to make amends.

Click for The Snail's Book Club Guides.

Click to see The Snail’s Book Club Guides.

So I want to hear from you:
What is the best nonfiction title your book club has read—and why? Or, if you’re not a book clubber, what is one of your favorite nonfiction reads?

Scroll down and share your suggestions in the comments section below. I know some of you may have a hard time limiting your answer to just one title, and that’s just fine. Mention as many as you’d like. I look forward to featuring your favorites in future articles and in Book Club Guides.

To sweeten the deal for my hometown followers (meaning those of you in Huntsville, Alabama), there’s a special giveaway you can enter when you participate: we’re teaming with WLRH to give away 2 pairs of tickets to “An Evening with Sarah Vowell” on October 23 at 7 p.m., at the VBC in Huntsville, Alabama. It takes only two steps to enter: (1) leave a comment at the bottom of this page and, (2) in the giveaway box below, click “Leave a blog post comment” so you can say “I commented!” (Comments are welcome from all, whether you live in the Huntsville area or not. But please only enter the giveaway if you can make it to see Sarah Vowell.)14691090_10155175565594918_7914025531154649389_n

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The giveaway ended October 19, 2016.


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  1. 1

    How cool that you’ll get to see both these great authors. My book club alternates between fiction and non-fiction each month. I feel the non-fiction books yield much more interesting conversations, though I’ve never really wondered why. To date I think that Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” gets the crown for best conversation, with Klosterman’s “But What If We’re Wrong” coming in second. Looking the photo for your post I imagine “Being Mortal” made for a worthwhile conversation for your group. We haven’t tried that one yet.

  2. 5
    Matthew Kresal

    Thinking over my recent reads, I’ve got a couple that comes to mind. One is Rowland White’s Into The Black on the first Space Shuttle mission, what led to it, and the sometimes intriguing crossover between the Shuttle program and the more classified side of America’s space efforts. Another one is Neil Gaiman’s The View From The Cheap Seats which is a collection of his non-fiction writing that covers a wide range of topics from libraries to what’s influenced him, introductions to books, and looks at the world around us.

  3. 7

    I’m not a book clubber but am a reader of non-fiction. I had just finished re-reading Assassination Vacation the day before I heard that Sarah Vowell was coming to Huntsville. It is a real favorite of mine that I come back to again and again.

  4. 9

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is mind boggling on so many different levels. A fascinating, moving, sometimes literally gut-wrenching read.

    • 10
      Lady @The Snail on the Wall

      I guess our reading list was too full the year this one came out, because my book club never made it to Henrietta Lacks. But it stays at the top of book club lists several years later. “Fascinating,” “moving,” “gut-wrenching”——all the qualities of a great read.

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