Read This, Not That: Indie Alternatives to Popular Books

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Ever notice how every book club seems to read the same books? The marketing arm of publishing houses spare no expense running focus-groups and analyzing readers’ purchases to sell novels to book clubs. A title catches on, steals all of the shelf space at airports and no one questions its insane popularity. It’s accessible and 200 other book clubs read it last month, so it must be great, right?

Here are five alternatives to some of the more popular book club picks that have oversaturated audiences.

1. Instead of The Help, read The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.

Turned upside down and dunked in Southern Gothic themes, muck and all, this mystery explores social and racial barriers through the protagonist’s hunt for her brother’s killer. With characters developed well beyond the stereotypical do-gooders in Stockett’s super-selling novel, The Little Friend is more Breaking Bad than moonlight and magnolias.

2. Instead of The Light Between Oceans, read Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.

Naslund’s gritty, sea-faring tale reveals a protagonist whose life story is as rollicking as an Americana song. The historical details and Melville references delight as well.

3. Instead of The Paris Wife, read Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy by Amanda Vaill.

This non-fiction account of a wealthy couple and their artist and writer friends—including Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald and others—is far more entertaining than the dreary dialogue of a made-up Hemingway in The Paris Wife. Gatsbyesque glamour, affairs, drugs and pearls on the beach included.

4. Instead of Eat, Pray Love, read A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr.

A jewel of a novel, A Month in the Country follows an English soldier hired after the Great War to restore a medieval mural in a small village church. I cannot recall anyone in my book club making negative comments about this straightforward, luminous read (though, I must admit, we already were Anglophiles). Bonus: Colin Firth stars in the film adaptation.

5. Instead of The Book Thief, read Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky.

Written during World War II before Nemirovsky was sent to Auschwitz, the novel follows an assortment of Parisians whose lives are turned upside down by the war. Their heart-breaking tales will stay with you for years.

Amy Bonesteel, an Atlanta-based freelance reporter and author, has contributed to Time, Atlanta Magazine and many other publications. She is in three book clubs, two of which she started, and is the founder of Book Club Rebel.