10 must-reads for your virtual book club this fall

Best books to read this fall

Comedies, memoirs, thrillers and love stories dominate the season.
Published: September 22, 2020

If there’s anything that quarantine has been good for, it’s reading. I’m so thankful book releases haven’t slowed or else I would be totally lost. When I’m back at school, reading typically takes the backseat. But this year is certainly different, and with more free time than usual, I’m always looking for new book recommendations.

My friends and I have started a virtual book club where we take turns choosing books to read. We then set a goal to finish around the same time so that we can discuss the book together. Of course, our book club has become an excuse for a virtual happy hour, but at least we are reading, right? I love the social aspect of reading—you can read the same book as someone else and have a completely different perspective. Below I have included some of our previous picks along with a few contenders for my next. These titles are mostly fiction with a few memoirs that explore some very interesting and timely themes such as race, sexuality and what it means to be a contemporary woman in the business world.

Alternative Text

1.  Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Ok, I haven’t read this one yet, but of course, I already own it! I am so excited about another Backman book because I loved A Man Called Ove. Backman is known for his quirky writing style, and Anxious People seems to be his weirdest work yet. The story is a comedy about a hostage situation that unfolds during an apartment open house. As people panic and fear for the worst, eight strangers start spilling their life secrets to one another. In a relatively short amount of time, relationships form as people put their lives into perspective. But while police negotiate with the robber and the media takes note of the situation, the robber starts to wonder which is better—facing the police or enduring the intimate confessions of his victims.

2. The Vanishing Half  by Brit Bennett

There is a lot of hype around this book, and I can tell you that it lives up to all of it. Two identical Black twin sisters run away from their small southern town at age 16. After living and working in New Orleans for a few years, the sisters become estranged. Fast-forwarding to their adult lives, one sister marries a Black man and raises a daughter with him while the other sister pretends to be white in order to assimilate to an upper-class life in California. The story follows both women, detailing their troublesome upbringing in order to illustrate how they now identify. Bennett discusses the friendships, relationships and family dynamics that define these women’s lives all while the Black-identifying sister tries to find and understand what happened to her twin.

I don’t think this story has ever been more timely because it highlights the routine struggles of Black women in this country and how they either conform (or don’t) to society’s expectations.

Alternative Text
Alternative Text

3. The Comeback by Ella Berman

I haven’t read this one yet, but the “Read with Jenna” stamp has put it at the top of my list. Last month’s pick from Jenna Hager’s Today Show Book Club, The Comeback, is about Grace Turner, a Hollywood female who exits the movie industry after enduring harassment and abuse from her director. A fictional story inspired by the #MeToo movement, there is a bit of suspense and mystery surrounding the secret that these two individuals share.

The fictional take on a seemingly glamorous fame industry caught my attention, and I have heard nothing but good things about this book!

4. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

I love a good thriller, but recently, I’ve realized that many of the plots and themes have become redundant. I will become engrossed in a page-turning story, only to discover that the angry ex-husband killed his imposter wife, and so on. BUT, The Guest List is supposed to be one of the genre’s best stories as of late.

The story takes place during a wedding weekend on an island off the coast of Ireland. The groom is a rising TV star, and the bride is a successful magazine publisher. Of course, this wedding is a highly anticipated social event full of celebrities, designer dresses and five-star food. Just as the festivities begin, jealousy and secrets from the past get in the way. When someone ends up dead, everyone scrambles to figure out who set out to ruin the happy couple’s day, and more importantly, why?

Alternative Text
Alternative Text

5. Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Another title that I have had my eye on for a while, Writers & Lovers, gives me classic American fiction vibes. Maybe it’s just the cover, but there is something about this story that just seems so nostalgic. Casey, the protagonist, moves to Massachusetts in 1997 after the death of her mom and a difficult breakup. Her work as a writer has dried up, so she waitresses in Harvard Square to pay her rent. She hates the idea of succumbing to a boring, corporate life but at 31, she may have no other choice. Casey eventually falls in love with two men at the same time and finds herself even more lost than when she arrived in Massachusetts. Essentially, she is stuck at the crossroads, reluctant to give up her creative youth, and also worried about not achieving enough.

I think this topic is something that a lot of us can relate to, and so I’m sure it will make for some interesting virtual book club conversations!

6. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Hands down the best book I have read so far this year. Admittedly, the story takes about 100 pages to get into, but it’s so worth sticking with. Jo and Bethie Kaufman are sisters who grew up in Detroit during the 1950s. The two couldn’t be any more different—Jo is a tomboy and Bethie is your typical ‘girl next door’ who cares way too much about her appearance. Jo and Bethie endure family tragedies and hardship all while the Vietnam War, women’s rights and counterculture disrupt their ordinary middle-class roots. Later on, when Jo becomes a young mother in Connecticut, she surprisingly assumes the role of a witness rather than a participant. Neither sister becomes who they wanted, and they are unfulfilled. The women try to reclaim their identity, fearing that maybe it’s too late.

I loved this book because it explores so many different topics, including sexuality, gender and race from the perspectives of two totally different women who grew up in the same house. It spans their whole lives, making the characters feel real and genuine.

Alternative Text
Alternative Text

7. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My brother lent this one to me. Usually, we have polar opposite tastes in books, but now I am a little more trusting of his recommendations. The Great Alone follows the Albright family and their impulsive decision to move to Alaska. Thirteen-year-old Leni is an only child to two unstable parents—her father was a Vietnam POW who suffers from alcoholism and PTSD. Leni and her mother share a close bond amidst their constant fear of Mr. Albright. In Alaska, the father’s mental health spirals, and the threats of an Alaskan winter are far less than the former. Leni and her mother soon learn they are on their own, and they must find their way out of a hopeless situation.

This story is extremely complex. It is a story about family, friendship and community all under the backdrop of a beautiful and dangerous Alaskan setting. Hannah is also the author of The Nightingale which, if you haven’t read…run to the bookstore!

8. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age is a simple story, but I think that’s the point. Emira, a young Black woman, is hired to babysit for a privileged white family in Philadelphia. Following a late-night incident at the family’s home, Emira is called and asked to take the young child she babysits on an adventure in order to get her out of the house. She brings three-year-old Briar to a grocery store and is quickly approached and accused of kidnapping the child. Although seemingly unflustered by the encounter, the family is horrified and outraged. The mother, Emira’s employer, is determined to rectify the situation but goes a bit too far. As the story unfolds, readers get a strange sense of Alix Chamberlin, a successful mother who would like to be anything but a millennial housewife. She becomes semi-obsessed with Emira and tries to do the right thing, a disguise for her own selfish intentions.

Alternative Text
Alternative Text

9. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

In my opinion, everyone should read this memoir. Chanel Miller, more widely known as Jane Doe throughout the Brock Turner rape trial, shares her story as a victim of one of the most infamous assault cases of this generation. As a recent college graduate, Miller attended a party at Stanford University while visiting a friend. With no memory of the incident, she wakes up in a hospital room after having been assaulted and left behind a campus dumpster. Over the next few years, Miller recalls the legal process she had to endure all while navigating her new identity as a sexual assault victim. Miller’s voice is so powerful throughout her memoir, and I especially admired her strength to share her story while making a direct effort to define herself as more than a victim. She rarely mentions Brock Turner, the division one scholarship swimmer. Instead, she says that the story is not about him, it is about her and her ability to eventually find courage in her story as a victim.

10. This is Not a Fashion Story by Danielle Bernstein

I have followed fashion influencer Danielle Bernstein of @weworewhat on Instagram for a long time. When she came out with her first book, my friends and I passed it between us, thinking it would be an extension of her already established brand. The story; however, goes back to her childhood and talks about her middle-class upbringing that eventually led her to the fashion world. Bernstein’s memoir really highlights how she has found success as a businesswoman, building a multimillion-dollar brand off of a blog and a social media account. If you are interested in fashion or can envision yourself working in the industry, this book is authentic, entertaining and informative.

Alternative Text