Biographies, histories and memoirs are some of the most riveting book club picks, but why stick with tired, “popular” choices? For every contrived or mass-marketed book, there are dozens of alternatives. Here are five, non-fiction options to replace overhyped titles:
1. Instead of The Monuments Men, read The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick.
Put down the bestseller-because-there’s-currently-a-movie-about-it-starring-Clooney and pick up The Forger’s Spell. A newspaper-style (think short chapters) account, the book follows a world-class forger who painted fake Vermeers. The forger’s ultimate buyer? Reviled Nazi Hermann Goering.
2. Instead of Lean In, read Paris in Love by Eloisa James.
An extended, Facebook post-style diary of romance writer/Shakespearian professor Eloisa James, Paris in Love chronicles a year spent in the French capital with James’ Italian husband, two children and overweight lapdog. Parisian shopping, feasting and cultural snafus can be empowering, too.
3. Instead of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, read Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl.
Former Gourmet Editor in Chief Reichl’s first (and best) memoir, Tender at the Bone covers her early love for all things food, her unbalanced mother, swanky boarding schools, hippies, wine country and recipes. Honorable mention: Italian chef Fabio Viviani’s cookbook Fabio’s Italian Kitchen. Completely unpretentious, Viviani honestly recounts growing up poor in a small apartment with several generations of relatives in Florence.
4. Instead of The End of Your Life Book Club, read Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov.
This memoir of pre-revolutionary Russia highlights Nabokov’s childhood in grand homes, his complicated relationships with his political parents and his fascination with butterflies. Short and powerful (it only covers his childhood to young adulthood), Speak, Memory rewards its readers with the brilliant vocabulary, phrasing and literary humanity for which Nabokov is known.
5. Instead of The Devil in the White City, read In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Try swapping Larson’s book for this can’t-put-it-down true story of survival at sea circa 1820. Whales, splintering wreckage, sharks and desolate horizons make In the Heart of the Sea unforgettable. Bonus: it’s currently being adapted for film by Ron Howard.
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.