Happy 2016, book nerds! Now that you’ve had some time to recover from all those champagne wishes and caviar dreams, it’s time to get down to business: planning your book club’s 2016 picks. Selecting each month’s book requires walking a fine line between art and science, pre-planning and sheer luck. What will get people talking? How do I keep things fresh? Are we stuck inside one genre or style?
We’re here to help. Below are top picks to get you through each month of the year, spread among authors, genres, narrative styles, and page count. What they share in common, however, is their ability to generate robust discussion, or at least a great reason to gather round with some wine and talk about a book.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa (Jan. 12)
Start your year off with a buzzy debut that will get your mental gears turning and your heart pounding. Though set against the backdrop of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, Yapa’s narrative delivers an atmospheric uncertainty and unsparing tone supremely relevant to present-day events. In a claustrophobic story—all the action takes place in the course of one afternoon—the lives of seven people will be forever changed, and so will your book club’s discussion.
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (Jan. 26)
Unless your group is dedicated to science fiction, the genre often gets short shrift when it comes to book club picks. Remedy that with another exemplary debut novel, this time from the editor-in-chief of io9. What starts as an interesting concept—two bullied grade-school friends, one wanting to hone her supernatural powers and the other on the verge of radically advancing technology—quickly unfolds into a complex work of speculative fiction that places the relationship between its characters on an even higher plane than the plot around them—the battle between magic and science and, well, the apocalypse.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad (Feb. 23)
Ready for some feels as you head into spring? Pick up Awad’s moving, unsettling, empathetic story of Lizzie March, whose struggles, first as an overweight teenager and then as a woman of hard-fought-for thinness, span decades and life events and will be starkly recognizable to just about anyone who has looked in the mirror and critiqued the image therein.
Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye (March 22)
Has your merry band gotten mired in the classics? Faye’s reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s masterwork, Jane Eyre, can give you a necessary jolt. In this story, young orphan Jane Steele receives the same abuse in her younger years as the classic heroine, but instead of keeping her head down and chin up, she leaves behind a trail of her tormentors’ corpses. It’s sparkling gothic satire that should make for some lively conversations on the canon.
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Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown, by James McBride (April 5)
The latest nonfiction release from a National Book Award winner is sure to add some gravitas to your reading slate. McBride pours over both the significance of a “cultural shapeshifter” and the tumultuous context that produced an icon of American pop music. You’ll come away with a fresh perspective on the legacy of one of our most towering cultural figures.
Everything Is Teeth, by Evie Wyld (May 10)
As Abigail Adams once said, “Remember the graphic novels!” Or something like that. Reading a graphic novel is a very different literary experience, one that is challenging and rewarding in its own right. If your book club has never tackled one before, dip your toes into the field with Wyld’s moving memoir about her childhood in coastal Australia, framed by her lifelong obsession with sharks.
Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay (May 10)
Kay has made a career of re-creating true-life historical periods in fantasy worlds, most notably with Under Heaven and River of Stars, inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Here, he hits paydirt by crafting a world based on Renaissance Europe, a time when empires constantly warred and faith, politics, and trade coalesced into an easy-to-light fuse. Kay focuses on the ways this larger tumult plays out among the people, each with their own motivations and ambitions.
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub (May 31)
In typical fashion, the author of The Vacationers will make you laugh, think, and blush, sometimes simultaneously. What happens when three college friends (and bandmates) grow up and have their own college-age offspring? That’s where Straub picks up with the trio, so cool in their heyday and now grappling with the revelation that their kids are grown, and sleeping with each other. The shock of middle age is nothing compared to the realization that some things never change.
The Girls, by Emma Cline (June 14)
Folks have been talking about The Girls for more than a year, since Random House inked a $2 million, three-book deal with Cline in 2014. Loosely based on the Manson murders, it’s bound to have loads to unpack with even the most reserved of book clubbers, particularly in the psychologically stunning way it explores the relationship—and obsession—between two women within the cult.
Losing It, by Emma Rathbone (July 19)
In Julia Greenfield’s mind, she has one major problem: she’s 26 and still a virgin. It’s not that she intended to avoid sex; it just sort of happened. To get her head back in the game, she takes a trip to North Carolina to spend the summer with her Aunt Viv. One problem: at 58, Viv is a virgin, too. What follows is a slyly hilarious look at love, sex, and obsession when you’re constantly worried you may never meet The One.
Urban Guerrilla, by Jeffrey Toobin (Aug. 2)
No one does true crime these days quite like Toobin, who has tackled topics ranging from O.J. Simpson to the 2000 election to the inside-baseball story of the Supreme Court. In his latest book, he turns his keen eye on the saga of Patty Hearst and her involvement (entanglement?) with the Symbionese Liberation Army. Add some grit to your reading with this unique lens on recent history.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison, by Samantha Mabry (April 12)
I saved this one for last, even though it might be torturous to have it in your possession for a few months before reading it. But ending your year with a lush YA steeped in magical realism really is the way to go out with a bang—and will provide you an escape when you’re knee-deep in extended-family holiday drama. A Caribbean island. A cursed girl. Whispered myths. And a boy who wants answers. This mystery, swathed in enchantment, will take your breath away and leave you longing for more.