Coed Book Club Recommendations

This list was inspired by my good friend and neighbor, who participates in a coed book club and frequently asks for recommendations. They’ve discussed The Beautiful Bureaucrat, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and much more.

I chose books that I thought would make enjoyable reading for both sexes and would spark lively, interesting, sometimes heated discussion. 

Latest Addition (June 27, 2017)

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing it’s residents have to be proud of. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: Youth sports, sports power structure, one other major issue that I won’t mention here because it’s a spoiler

The List

Black Chalk, Christopher J. Yates, thriller, fiction, Oxford UniversityBlack Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction (U.S. Release April, 2014)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Six best friends at Oxford University decide to play “a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares” (quote from Amazon), which devolves into humiliation and tragedy.

My Thoughts: Black Chalk was one of my favorite books of 2014! Hmm – how to best describe this book (other than AWESOME!)? Think The Hunger Games meets The Secret History meets The InterestingsContinue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Human nature, motivation, risks, friendship

Concussion, Jeanne Marie LaskasConcussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Nonfiction – Medical Mystery/Sports (Released November 24, 2015)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries of football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL).

My Thoughts: Concussion is a so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it’s my favorite nonfiction of 2015! Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Football safety and what can/should be done to improve it, big business cover-ups, willingness to let own kids play football

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.
My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Medical ethics, disaster preparedness and response, euthanasia and end of life decisions

Going ClearGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Nonfiction (Released January 17, 2013)
430 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Summary: 
The story behind L. Ron Hubbard’s (LRH) founding of Scientology, its links to the entertainment industry, and the current state of the “religion”.

My Thoughts: Going Clear reminded me a lot of Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, just swapping out Scientology for Mormonism. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: Scientology as a religion/cult/business, etc, Scientology beliefs, Scientology’s allure, intersection with Hollywood

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.
My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobility. Continue Reading…

Imagine Me Gone, Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Fiction (Released May 3, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A multi-generational family saga of the impact of depression and mental illness on a family.

My Thoughts: Incredibly sad, but poignant, this 2016 National Book Award Long-Lister is beautifully written and captures the frustration, resentment, and crushing sense of responsibility and worry that come with having a family member who suffers from mental illness. While extended sections from Michael’s perspective are hard to read and nonsensical at times with long tangents on esoteric music, they serve a distinct purpose (allowing the reader inside mind of someone suffering from depression). And, the second half flows beautifully toward the inevitable, yet still drama-filled conclusion.
Potential Discussion Topics: Mental illness, family dynamics, moral obligations

Missoula, Jon KrakauerMissoula by Jon Krakauer
Nonfiction (Released April 21, 2015)
386 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

My Thoughts: Krakauer’s incredibly readable investigative journalism had me turning the issues of rape and the justice system over and over in my head and was almost a 5 star read for me (only a tedious final section prevented me from giving it that last half star). Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Rape on college campuses, fairness of criminal and campus procedure in handling rape cases, what can/should be done to improve a rape victim’s experience with pressing charges and outcome

One Second After, William R. ForstchenOne Second After by William R. Forstchen
Fiction (Released March 17, 2009)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
The small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina fights to survive after the United States is hit by an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack.
My Thoughts: 
This is a book about something that has not yet happened on Earth, but is entirely possible. An EMP is a nuclear explosion that happens far above Earth, causing all present day electronics to instantly fry, sending civilization back a few centuries. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: 
Real life threat of an EMP attack, life after an EMP attack

Thank You for Your Service, David Finkel, Iraq war, Afghanistan war, PTSD in soldiers, Traumatic brain injury in soldiersThank You for Your Service by David Finkel
Nonfiction – War (Released October 1, 2013)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary:
An exploration of mental and emotional trauma facing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s efforts to curb this group’s high suicide rate.

My Thoughts: Thank You for Your Service is a heartbreaking and moving series of stories about various members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion and their families dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) following war zone deployments. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
PTSD and TBI in returning soldiers, effects on the soldiers’ families, the military’s response to this problem

The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Helen PhillipsThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Fiction (Released August 11, 2015)
192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When Josephine moves to a new city with her husband and takes a job at a data processing facility, strange things begin to happen, leading her to further investigate the company she works for.

My Thoughts: Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a tiny ball of weirdness…reminiscent of a demented “Office Space”…that had me on the edge of my seat. I just had to know…what the heck is going on here?! The entire book feels like a riddle that the reader needs to unravel. And, once the the riddle of Josephine’s company has been solved, you’re left with much broader questions to ponder. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: I need to stay vague here so I don’t spoil things, but what does it all MEAN?!

Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Fiction (Released June 3, 2014)
286 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary:
The story of a group of immigrant families living in a nondescript apartment building in Delaware, centering on the relationship between two teenagers, Maribel and Mayor.

My Thoughts: This powerful book about the life of immigrants living in the U.S. is initially quiet, but I couldn’t put it down towards the end. It forces the reader to see life in America through a different set of eyes and is relevant to the current political climate. There’s lots to chew on here.
Potential Discussion Topic: Immigration

The Dinner, Herman KochThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Fiction (Released February 12, 2013)
306 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an upscale, Amsterdam restaurant to discuss how to handle a situation involving their teenage sons.

My Thoughts: Not much happens in the beginning of the story, but I was so busy reveling in Koch’s brilliant writing and biting social commentary that I didn’t even realize that the characters had merely arrived at the restaurant and ordered food. But, rest assured, the action does pick up. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Ethics of parental decisions, the homeless, the main characters’ decisions/actions

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Human trafficking, marriage and what it can survive, humanity, forgiveness, the main characters’ decisions/actions

The Sleepwalker, Chris BohjalianThe Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Thriller (Released January 10, 2017)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Annalee Ahlberg, a notorious sleepwalker, disappears from her home in the middle of the night, her husband and two daughters try to piece together what happened.
My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian’s most recent books are giving him quite a reputation for coming up with mysteries…with more. They have the who-done-it/why-done-it elements of your run-of-the-mill mystery, but he layers on something deeper. In 2016’s The Guest Room, it was sex-trafficking, and in The Sleepwalker, it’s parasomnia. I found the parasomnia angle fascinating…it’s much more than the book’s title suggests. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: Parasomnia, what you would do for family, legal implications of parasomnia

Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony MarraThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Fiction (Released October 6, 2015)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of linked short stories spotlighting life in the USSR/Russian Federation/Russia from 1937 to present day (including life under Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and Putin).
My Thoughts: This much-lauded collection doesn’t read like most short story collections, as its linked nature makes it feel more like a novel told from different perspectives and time periods. And, the way Marra used characters and events to link each story perfectly rode the line of being brilliantly intricate, yet not too confusing to follow. What really shined for me was Marra’s portrayal of the more quirky/screwed up aspects of Soviet life under Communist rule, wartime, Glasnost, and the rise of the oligarchs and organized crime. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: Communism, government subversion

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie FrankelThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Fiction (Released January 24, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.
My Thoughts: This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: Gender dysphoria, parenting decisions

Without You There is No Us, Suki Kim, North KoreaWithout You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October, 2014)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: 
Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A memoir of Suki Kim’s time teaching English in a Christian missionary sponsored school (Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, aka PUST) for elite North Korean college age men outside of Pyongyang, North Korea.
My Thoughts: 
Without You, There Is No Us shares a fascinating and horrifying glimpse into the black box that is North Korea, an “unknown and unknowable” world as Kim describes it. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics: 
Life in North Korea (for the elite, as covered in the book, and for everyone else), rules Kim was forced to live under, possible consequences of Kim divulging details of the outside world to her students

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2 Responses to “Coed Book Club Recommendations”

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – I really loved it with the exception of the 2 Chechnya war stories.

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