Book Club Recommendations: The Most Popular Reads of 2008 from the Editors of Reading Group Guides

There's a great website called Reading Group Guides and every year, their editors are kind enough to collate the most popular reads among their hundreds of member book clubs. Below are the results for 2008. (Note that these titles, while popular in 2008, can be from any year — a list of just "new in 2008" titles is coming soon.)

Also, we're publishing this list without any book descriptions. Rather than tell you about the book, we thought it would be interesting for you to tell us why you (or your book club) found the book so "discussable." So, if know one of these books, email us at with your take on the book. Who knows? Your words might just end up published below. ;-)


The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

Gotham Gal from New York, NY says:

Once I read the first page, I could have just continued reading without stopping until the book ended. Twists and turns. A famous author (like a J.K. Rowling-type) chooses someone, for a reason, to tell the secret story of her life. Dickens meets Austen.


Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

Tammy Rice from Dalton, GA says:

I finished this last night and I cried like a baby (and books rarely generate that reaction from me). While it's geared to a toward a “tween” audience, I would recommend this to anyone.

Its ending is haunting: “And that’s the end of the story about Bruno and his family. Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”

And yet, I thought, it does.


The Five People You Meet in Heaven

by Mitch Albom

Miss Hannah says:

This is a book about how we make a difference, even when we're not looking; about how other ordinary people we never met make a difference in our lives. Just a little girl, half guessed through the smoke and the fire of war, a child with no name, no face, not even an outline. Or maybe a boy running across the street, gone again in less than a second. They can and do change lives. Beautifully written, this version of Heaven has very little to do with religion, and very much to do with who we are inside, that person unknown often even to ourselves. Atheist that I am, I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it to anyone who has a few hours to consider the impact they have in the world around them.


The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Kathy H. says:

I read this during a rare nor'easter on the Outer Banks. There's no mother in this book, and maybe that's the problem? This is more about the pain children can cause each other, and the damage that you do when you build a wall around your heart. It's also a beautiful ode to Afghanistan, and kite running.


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

Bridget McKenna from Seattle WA says:

This book and the series that follows features Precious Ramotswe, a middle-aged lady of traditional values, and owner of the first female-operated detective agency in Botswana. Anyone who loves Africa, or even the idea of Africa, should rush out and buy these. They’re quite cozy, which is not really my usual style, but the masterful combination of simplicity, innocence, wisdom, and quiet humor won me over. I open each new volume with happy anticipation, knowing the experience will reward me on many levels.


The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

Shuttsie from Book Buddy says:

The Walls family gives new meaning to "hardscrabble childhood". Jeannette, her brother and two sisters, struggle to grow up in a family where their parents have abdicated all parental responsibility. The premise may seem depressing — the siblings struggle with hunger and lack of descent shelter, while the parents essentially do their own thing, but Walls' matter-of-fact descriptions and her personal lack of anger allow the reader to keep plunging forward without being pulled under. The book compels you to keep reading (arriving home while listing to the last CD of the audio book my husband and I ran into our apartment to finish listening) and would be a great book club choice, if for no other reason than to discuss what was causing the parents behavior.


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See

Shannon Turlington from Books Worth Reading says:

This novel is an unflinching, sometimes brutal portrayal of life for women in 19th century China. It's also the story of a friendship between women that must have been very rare in such a time. The novel depicts the mysterious ritual of foot-binding and the little-known tradition of women's "secret writing," called nu shu, and so opens the hidden world of these women. Yet despite all the restrictions on their lives — and despite their human flaws — these women survived and created intimate lifelong relationships with one another. Clearly, there's more than enough fodder for any book club to discuss and debate.


My Sister's Keeper

by Jodi Picoult

Monica McCutchen from Vancouver, Canada says:

Jodi Picoult is an amazing author. She manages to get into the heads of all her characters in such a way as to make each of them a believable separate part of the story.

In this book, Picoult takes you into a world that few of us can imagine. A sick child, a healthy one, an indifferent one...parents who mourn the life they once envisioned yet finding the strength to keep together the one they received.

The characters cry, they yell, they walk in a cloud of misery that they know won't disappear. Yet they survive and come out much stronger than when they started.


The Friday Night Knitting Club

by Kate Jacobs

Denise says:

Because this book had received rave reviews and was on the best sellers list for quite some time, I was delighted when I could finally set aside time to read it. The characters are well-developed and each has his or her own story that is interesting — not because the individual character is particularly compelling, but rather because their lives are much like those of anyone you might already know.

Although I very much enjoyed the book, I was disturbed by the unexpected, abrupt manner in which the book ended, particularly since this is not the first book that I've read by this author. That said, this element of surprise, even if it's unpleasant and rather abrupt, may be exactly what makes the book so appealing to some.


A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

Tammy Rice from Dalton, GA says:

I thought The Kite Runner was a fantastic read and couldn't imagine the author following it with a success, but A Thousand Splendid Suns surpassed, for me, its predecessor. I like a book that engages me on multiple levels — one that is not just entertaining but thought-provoking in one way or another. This book was a beautifully written tale, a story with engaging characters, a story that was entertaining in and of itself. However, it also told a story that angered me, educated me, and made me want to get out of my reading chair and do something. We all know, or think we know, what's happening to women around the world, but sometimes we need to be reminded. This book does just that. It reminded me and haunts me every time I walk past it on the bookshelf.


Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Renee R. from Aiken, SC says:

I'd always wanted to be in the circus growing up. Reading this book made me feel like I was a part of the carnival life when such a life was perhaps the most difficult. This story made me fall in love with the circus all over again. This is a beautiful story with characters so well-developed, I found myself cheering out loud at every calamity that befalls the villain.


The Space Between Us

by Thrity Umrigar

Jacqueline Larson from Maple Grove, MN says:

I read "The Space Between Us" because someone in book club recommended it to us. I was reluctant at first — I don't know why. Anyway, I was quickly drawn in by the characters, and fascinated with the vivid images of India. The story of an upper-class woman and her "help" trying to understand each other is riveting and kept me glued to the book until the last page. Now I'm on a bit of an India kick, reading "The Toss of a Lemon" by Padma Viswanathan.


The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Aimee Dars Ellis says:

One of my favorite books of all time, "The Handmaid's Tale," presents a dystopian future in which the United States government is taken over by a far-right religious faction.

Men loyal to the cause are given positions in the government. Women, on the other hand, are limited in their options — they can be Marthas, Wives, Handmaids, or Hookers with few exceptions. Government officials and their wives need handmaids because of a population crisis in which most women are unable to conceive.

The book tells the story of one Handmaid, her confined life, and how she arrived at this point. Beautifully written, this book is as relevant today as when it was written.


The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Lois says:

This book was one of the most touching love stories I have ever read. You're swallowed, tossed around through time, and continually mindful of the impossibility and paradox of their love, but you hope for the best. Make sure you have a big box of tissues for this one, it will leave you in both smiles and tears.


A Fine Balance

by Rohinton Mistry

Chrisbookarama from Canada says:

This is an incredibly sad yet touching book. It's difficult to read the terrible things that happen to the characters. However, the characters, who are mostly strangers to each other, care for one another during hard times. It's a must-read.