Good, Clean Book Club Books: Suggestions and Request for Suggestions

I’m a part of two books clubs. The first is a classics book club that meets at the library, and I lead the discussion every month. I don’t have any trouble thinking of ideas for that book club. We have great discussions and it’s nice to befriend other classics readers in the community.

I’m also a part of what I call (with all respect and love) a “brownie book club,” a casual gathering of my friends for which we all read a book and discuss it as we eat treats. This casual book club is lots of fun for me. It’s mostly an excuse for me and my friends to get together, and while we do discuss the book at length (about a 45-minute discussion), we also enjoy visiting more than anything.

Although it’s not through my church, it’s comprised of friends from my church group, so we try to avoid books with uninspiring content or messages. Particularly, I don’t want to suggest a book that has lots of sexuality, swearing, drug use, or crude humor. Also, this is for the most part a conservative group, and given the variety of political thought among us (I do not consider myself conservative, more in the middle), I also want to avoid most political discussions.

All that said, here’s the list I’ve been compiling to suggest for the next year. I’m not really going to suggest all of these. I’m including ones I wouldn’t really suggest to this particular group or that we’ve already read, because I hope it can be a resource for you in your own book clubs too! Links below go to posts on Rebecca Reads.

Books I’ve read or discussed

The following is a list of books I’ve read by myself or for a book club. I’ve included why I first read it and, if I feel it’s necessary, why I think it would be a good book club discussion. I’ve tried to include content warnings when I remember them. If you want to add a content warning, leave me a comment and I’ll add it.

Classic Fiction

I wonder if I can convince my group to give some classic fiction a try? Some of these are hard to find, others may be too much for the group to read (some of the group don’t read a lot).

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell, a political fable. I read it first in high school and have revisited it an adult. Given its classic status, it may prove to be a fun discussion for a book club.
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand, a dystopia in which one person discovers his own abilities and chooses to escape. I first read this for a book club years ago, and we had a good discussion of personal choice and discovery.
  • Christmas Carol, A by Charles Dickens, a classic story of finding the true Christmas spirit. I’ve never read this for a book club, but I think it might be a fun one.
  • Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton, a story about forgiveness and overcoming discrimination in 1940s South Africa. This is stylized book, so not everyone will get in to it. I read it with my classics book group, and half liked it. I personally think it’s an inspiring book, and some people a Brownie book club may enjoy it too.
  • Enchanted April, The by Elizabeth van Arnim, a story in which a woman rents a cottage in Italy for a month, learning about herself along the way. I love this book, but it’s not easy to find in my library system, so I’m sad I can’t recommend it for a book club. It’s inspiring and fun – and much better than the movie!
  • Good Earth, The by Pearl S. Buck, a story of a family in rural China at the turn of the century. I think this book would garner a great discussion. Content warning: some discussion of sexuality, a concubine.
  • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a turn-of-the-century novella about four men stumbling upon a community comprised of women. I have never read this with a book club, but as the posts on it for the Year of Feminist Classics have revealed, it may prove an interesting book to read for a brownie book club. Plus, it’s short.
  • Home-maker, The by Dorothy Canfield, a father is forced to stay home and the mother go to work in this 1930s classic. It’s unfortunately hard to find, so it may not work as a book club choice for that reason. If I could find multiple copies of it, I’d recommend it to my book club in a heartbeat!
  • Joys of Motherhood, The by Buchi Emecheta, a story about a mother in Nigeria, struggling to find joy after a child’s death and a husband’s second marriage, among other things. Another very hard to find book, but I think it would be a great book club book were it easily available.
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, a collection of stories for children describing how the world works. I think these might be a fun change for a book club. I remember writing my own “Just so” stories to explain things when I was a kid.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the classic story of four different sisters growing up during the Civil War. I’ve read March for book club, but not this original. Why not?
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, a murder mystery on a train, solved by Hercurle Poirot. I haven’t read this for a book club; maybe it would be a fun one. Content warning: obviously, given that it’s a murder mystery, there was a murder. But it was off stage…
  • Old Man and the Sea, The by Ernest Hemingway, a story about a lone man catching a big fish. I loved the themes of positive self-esteem and overcoming trial. I read it right after I gave birth naturally, and I can’t think of that event without thinking of this book.
  • Raisin in the Sun, A by Lorraine Hansberry, a play about a black family in 1960s Chicago. I don’t know how a play would go over with my group. I think this play has lots to discuss about race, gender, and identity in general.
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo, a fictionalized account of the first Christian missionaries in Japan in the 1600s. Content warning: violent torture.
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, a long fictionalized letter between one Senegalese woman to her friend about their polygamous husbands. This is hard to find in the USA but it is one of the best books I’ve read and I would love to be able to discuss it with a group.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a story of a young girl grows up in the South during the Great Depression. I love this book. Need I say more? Content warning: the “bad guys” express racial prejudice, and there is discussion of a woman who was raped.
  • Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A by Betty Smith, a story of a young girl growing up in New York City at the turn of the century. I enjoyed this book, and my book club read it last year and enjoyed discussing it too. It was almost too long for many of the book club members, though. People struggled to finish it. Content warning: a sexual predator in the neighborhood. I think that was it, though?

Modern Fiction

I don’t read a lot of modern fiction. Many of these were originally read or suggested at book clubs.

  • Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, a collection of inspiring stories of survival and recovery in post civil war Rwanda. I suggested this to my book club last fall, and prepared discussion questions.
  • Beekeeper’s Apprentice, The by Laurie R. King: a young woman meets the retired Sherlock Holmes and brings him out of retirement with some new mysteries. I read this on my own. I am not normally a fan of mysteries, but this was a fun (and light!) approach to a classic story.
  • Book Thief, The by Markus Zusak, a young girl in Munich during WWII learns to read. I read this on my own, and I think it may yield a good discussion. Content warning: lots of swearing (in German).
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, an epistolary novel in a “dystopian” community that worships the alphabetic letters; when the letters begin falling off the monument, the government forbids use of them. An amusing story about the freedom of self-expression.
  • Goose Girl, The by Shannon Hale, a Young Adult retelling of the fairy tale.
  • Graveyard Book, The by Neil Gaiman, a juvenile novel about a boy raised in a graveyard.
  • Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The by Mary Ann Schaeffer and Anne Burrows, a story in letters between book lovers on the Channel Islands and England. This is such a popular book club choice, and it’s easy to see why: it’s all about the love of books.
  • Help, The by Kathryn Stockett, a story about the true life of the black household help in 1950s Mississippi. Another popular choice these days, this is a strong book with lots to discuss.
  • House on Mango Street, The by Sandra Cisneros, a novella written as a series of brief stories about a young Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago. I have not read this for a book club, but it may provide interesting discussion about growing up. Content warning: May have abuse, I can’t remember.
  • Housekeeper and the Professor, The by Yoko Ogawa, a novella about a housemaid and a memory-challenge professor. This is a great book club choice; in my book club, all 12 people who read it loved it! The book also has discussion questions.
  • March by Geraldine Brooks, an account of the father of the girls from Little Women while he serves in the Civil War. I enjoyed reading this, although die hards of Little Women might not like it so much. Content warning: some sex scenes.
  • Midwife’s Apprentice, The by Karen Cushman, a juvenile story about an orphaned girl training to be a midwife. I read this with a book club and found it refreshing and insightful.
  • No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The by Alexander McCall-Smith. A woman detective in Botswana. I loved this book, first reading it for a book club.
  • Princess Bride, The by William Goldman, an adventure story. The movie is a cult classic, but many have not read the book. The book is not as strong as the movie (in my opinion) but it may garner some fun discussion. Content Warning: I believe in the beginning scenes there are some questionable moral situations and some bad language.
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, a story about a friendship between two girls growing up China. I read it for a book club, and while I didn’t love it, many others in the group did, and we had a good discussion.
  • Thirteenth Tale, The by Diane Setterfield, a Victorian-esque story about a mysterious author’s life. I found the literary references quite fun.
  • Uncommon Reader, The by Alan Bennett, a novella about the Queen becoming obsessed with reading. I love this book, and think there would be a lot to discuss. Content warning: Out of the blue crude sexual humor.
  • Wrinkle in Time, A by Madeleine L’Engle, a juvenile novel about kids overcoming evil. I haven’t read this with an adult book club, but I think it has potential with adults.

Nonfiction

I also don’t read a ton of nonfiction these days, but here are some I’ve read in the past. Again, suggestions wanted in the comments!

  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. A brief series of letters between a woman ordering books and the book seller in England. A friendship arises, thanks to their literary connection. This might be a thought-provoking one for a group of readers.
  • Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts, a series of brief biographies of some of the woman that supported the founding of America. I only have listened to an abridged version of this book, but I really loved it. I think maybe reading part of this for a book group would be fun.
  • Glass Castle, The by Jeannette Walls, a memoir of growing up in poverty with a mentally disturbed mother and father. I love this book, and I don’t normally like memoirs! Powerful and inspiring without being whiny.
  • Life of Our Lord, The by Charles Dickens. Dickens’ children’s version of the Savior’s life is short and biased, but I like rereading it now and then. It may be a fun December option for a book group, when people don’t want to commit to something long and would rather eat Christmas cookies than talk for a long time.
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman, a children’s picture book biography of the 16th president. I suggested it to my book group before and everyone enjoyed how it was short and to the point, and yet taught them something.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, a tome defining Christianity. I suggested it to book group. Despite it’s 220 pages, it is quite dense; a group should bear that in mind and either read part of it, or split it into two months. There is a lot to discuss.
  • Millionaire Next Door, The (abridged audiobook) by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, a description of some of the key life style changes necessary to be wealthy. This has the potential to be too political for my book club. I’ve only listened to the abridged audio of this as well. I wonder if the unabridged is just too repetitive.
  • My Life in France by Julia Child, a memoir of her years learning to cook. I found Julia Child’s story incredibly inspiring. She was old before she learned to cook! And she became an expert! We all have hope. I think everyone may enjoy this book, not just the cooks out there.
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, a memoir by the former slave himself. It gave me lots to ponder on what it means to be free, and it gave me insight into what it meant to be a slave.
  • Room of One’s Own, A by Virginia Woolf, a lengthy feminist essay about a woman’s freedom. I would love to discuss this with a book club; it may be a bit too scholarly for my “brownie” book club, though.
  • Same Kind of Different at Me by Ron Hall, a story of a black homeless man and a white millionaire and how they changed each other’s lives. I read this with my book club.
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, a discussion of what happens to the body after death. I found this funny and informative. It gave me plenty to think about. It might be too irreverent for some of the conservative ladies in my book club, though.
  • Words We Live By, The: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk, as described an annotated guide to the constitution. I found it when someone mentioned how they really wanted to read the Constitution for the next book club meeting; this is another book that was going to be too scholarly for my book group, so we read something else. But I love it! It gave me a better understanding of my government in a straight forward way. Plus, I was reading the constitution itself to get that understanding! Perfect if your groups wants to put in the effort to read it.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, a memoir of a childhood. I read this first for a book club when I was a young adult (maybe 17?). It is a powerful book. Content warning: description of a rape.
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a memoir of hiding Jews in the 1940s in Holland, and then being taken to a concentration camp. It gave me a new understanding of the concepts of faith and forgiveness. An inspiring story. Content warning: description of torture and conditions in a concentration camp.

Books I Haven’t Read Yet

Let me know about content warnings for these ones. I have them on my own to read list, and I wonder if any of them are ones I can suggest to my group.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot
  • The Paris Wife by Linda McClain. (Probably too racy for my conservative book group, but I want to read it!)
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen P. Galloway
  • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Which good, clean book club books have you read in the past year? What do you recommend?

Other suggestions:

  • See BookPage
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • Home by Marilynne Robinson
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (some mild sexual content)
  • Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
  • The Host  by Stephenie Meyer
  • Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton (though of course this is more difficult to get ahold of).
  • Flavia de Luce books
  • DE Stevenson
  • Angela Thirkell
  • Edna Ferber
  • Mary Stewart (all oldies)
  • Alexander McCall-Smiths’ Scotland Street series or his Elizabeth Dalhousie series
  • The Right Attitude to Rain
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain
  • Francine Rivers
  • Karen Kingsbury
  • Beverly Lewis
  • Janette Oke
  • Leif Enger
  • Sarah Addison Allen
  • Olive Ann Burns (Cold Sassy Tree)
  • Gail Godwin
  • Anne Lamott
  • Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome
  • Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker
  • A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (She Got Up Off The Couch)
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Miss Read stories
  • Saving CeeCee Honeycut
  • The Remains of the Day

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I see Silence on your list, and my current church group had some fabulous discussions of Silence. I think it was a favorite for everyone, but not light, as you know!

    A few other possibly suitable books that come to my mind are I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Home by Marilynne Robinson, and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (some mild sexual content).

    For nonfiction, perhaps one of Madelene L’Engle’s Crosswicks journals or Two-Part Invention, a wonderful book about her marriage.

    1. Teresa » oh yes, I know some on the list are NOT light. I don’t think I could get my group to read that one, given the violence, etc. But thought it worth mentioning. And thanks for the other suggestions. I really liked the first Crosswicks’ journal, and I’ve been meaning to get to the others someday soon.

  2. Would The Eyre Affair be too much for the group? I remember there being a certain amount of swearing, sex, and “southpark-like” humor…

    I second Teresa’s suggestion of Cold Comfort Farm. I would also recommend Rebecca for classics. As for modern books, the first thoughts that come to mind are The Host (yes, I know it’s by Stephenie Meyer, but it was surprisingly really good adult fiction!) and Crossed Wires (though of course this is more difficult to get ahold of). I guess the Flavia de Luce books might work if you like quirky historical fiction mysteries.

    1. Amanda » wow, I totally don’t remember that stuff in EYRE AFFAIR. I read it so fast and wasn’t thinking of the group when I read it. I’ll take it off the list. Definitely sounds like it had more in it than I remember in terms of not clean stuff…Even though I liked it. I think my group already read the Host before I moved in, but I’ll put it down as an idea. And I’d love to discuss CROSSED WIRES, but of course that’s another hard to find one. Why are these great books so gosh darn hard to find?!

  3. Great list! It isn’t easy, as you know, to find clean reading!!! (especially in young adult books – gosh, most of the stuff they write about nowadays I didn’t know until after I was married!) :–)

    1. rhapsodyinbooks » as the comments reveal, I’ve even forgotten some of the not good stuff from these books! It is hard to find good clean reading…

  4. You have lots of my favourites on your lists. What about anything by DE Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Edna Ferber, Mary Stewart (all oldies) and Alexander McCall-Smiths – Scotland Street series or his Elizabeth Dalhousie series, possibly The Right Attitude to Rain would fit the bill.

    1. Katrina » I don’t even know most of those authors, I’ll have to look them up. And I don’t really like Elizabeth Dalhousie so much, but I did remember liking Scotland Street!

  5. Marilynne Robinson’s Home and Gilead are both fantastic. There are heavy issues in them (institutionalized racism, alcoholism, preparation for death, and the question of whether violence is ever morally justified), but I believe they are “clean” in the sense you mean. (Although I’m not great at thinking about books that way, so there may be a few things that slipped past my memory.)

    The House on Mango Street involves incest/sexual child abuse, doesn’t it?

    I third or fourth the suggestion of Cold Comfort Farm&mdashs;it’s delightful fun. 🙂

    1. Emily » I’m apparently not good of thinking of books as “clean or not” as I’ve forgotten so much of the questionable content. I haven’t read Robinson yet, sounds like I need to. And I really can’t remember any sexual abuse in MANGO STREET. I’ll have to skim through my copy. I’ve read that one a few times, I think I’d remember. And HOW COME I haven’t haven’t read COLD COMFORT FARM yet? Everyone has suggested it!

  6. I just loved reading through that list! Just added several to Goodreads. 🙂

    I’ve never joined a book club, so I have no advice. But really, all of these look awesome, to me. 🙂

    Oh, just have to add: Gone With the Wind!!!! 😉

    1. Jillian » There is NO WAY I could get my group to read such a long book! lol But I’m in the middle of it, and enjoying it so far!

  7. This is a great list! Thank you! As a librarian, I get lots of requests for book group recommendations and surprisingly, a lot of them are church groups.

    Some favorite authors from our church group locals (haven’t read them personally, though):

    Francine Rivers
    Karen Kingsbury
    Beverly Lewis
    Janette Oke

    A few authors that I recommend when trying to help them branch out:

    Leif Enger
    Sarah Addison Allen
    Olive Ann Burns (Cold Sassy Tree)
    Gail Godwin
    Anne Lamott

    Again–thanks for the list!

    1. Phaedosia » oh thanks for the suggestions! I think we read Cold Sassy Tree and a Leif Enger novel before….but I”m adding all of these to the list! I’m glad this might be of help to you in your library!

  8. For classics, I highly recommend Edith Wharton, especially The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome. Another great coming-of-age book is Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker, sort of a western version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It might be hard to get enough copies if you’re limited to the library, but I really enjoyed it.

    A Girl Named Zippy is a very funny memoir by Haven Kimmel, not whiny at all as I remember. The sequel, She Got Up Off The Couch, is also excellent. Another contemporary book I really liked was Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I don’t really remember any sex in it but it’s been several years since I read it.

    If you’re looking for a nice clean book, I recommend The Miss Read stories, which apparently inspired Jan Karon. However, I don’t know that they’d be great for discussion. Great for listening in the car, though.

    1. Karen K. » it is annoying that we’re limited by what the library has…but I’ll add your suggestions to the list. Wow, my TBR has expanded exponentially! thanks for the ideas.

  9. I think The Book Thief would be a great book club read, loved that book. I’ll put in an endorsement for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — it’s very accessible nonfiction that offers a lot of moral and ethical dilemmas to consider.

  10. Hi Rebecca,

    I highly recommend ‘Saving CeeCee Honeycut’ for your ‘To Read’ book list.

    Enjoy

  11. My book club is currently reading The Remains of the Day. I haven’t read it yet (starting tomorrow), but my recollection from the last time I read it is that it’s pretty clean. And really good!

  12. From reading your post, you already suspect this – but i vaguely remember there being a lot of sex in “The Paris Wife.” (I had considered passing it on to my host mom, who likes to practice her English by reading, but pretty quickly realized that wouldn’t be a great idea.)

  13. I love this Rebecca! I wish I’d known about your blog a long time ago! We’ve got to get together and talk books some time, I’ve read quite a few of the ones you mentioned, and I have some you might be interested in as well. It was great chatting with you in your beautiful home last night. Have a great time in NYC, that is so amazingly cool!!!

  14. Rebecca – – it’s a master’s in liberal studies (with a concentration on the humanities) at Fort Hays State University (in Kansas). They have an extensive virtual college program, and so far (I’ve taken 3 classes) I have been very impressed with them. The classes are certainly challenging! Maybe you could come over next week sometime and we could talk and the kids can play!!

  15. When you’re up for a little narrative nonfiction, check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It is an account of her family’s life in rural Va eating what they grow and getting to know their neighbors better. Lovely and inspiring. A perfect summer book.

    And definitely read Marilynne Robinson (_Housekeeping_ is my personal favorite), Madelene L’Engle (I love _Small Rain_ and _A Severed Wasp_), and Gail Godwin (esp. _Evensong_ and _Evenings at Five_, but not necessarily her early stuff). Can’t wait to hear what your group thinks!

  16. Sorry to be so late to this game, but I highly, highly recommend anything by Elizabeth Goudge. She is little-known but I’ve never read anything by her that I didn’t love. Especially recommend The Bird in the Tree, but all her books are worth it.

  17. This is a family friendly book for all ages. N.P. Swain, AKA (Nelson Pahl), first fantasy trilogy series: The Gnomes.

    It meets all your request for your reading group. Just good clean fun.

    I have read this book three times. I just love it.

    Can get in book form at http//luckytownpress.com or nelson@luckytownpress.com

  18. I happened on your site when I was looking for a discusssion guide for Baking Cakes in Kigali. Thank you for it. I also belong to two book clubs, both with church members. We recommend “The Color of Water” by James McBride, “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas and “The Book of Negroes” or as it is published in the USA, Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hall. All excellent books with no swearing, some allusions to sex or abuse but nothing graphic and no gratuitous violence.

  19. I happened on your site when I was looking for a discussion guide for “Baking Cakes in Kigali.” Thank you for it.

    I also belong to two book clubs, both with church members. We recommend “The Color of Water, a Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” by James McBride, “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas, “The Book of Negroes” or as it is published in the USA, “Someone Knows my Name” by Lawrence Hill, “Crow Lake” by Mary Lawsen, “Jewel” by Bret Lott, (which was an Oprah book club selection but don’t let that put you off) and “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. All excellent books with little or no swearing, some allusions to sex or abuse but nothing graphic and no gratuitous violence.

    If you read “The Cellist of Sarajevo” I would recommend you get a hold of “Sarajevo, A Portrait of a Siege” by Matthew Naythons. Many of the scenes Galloway mentions in his book are depicted.

    Children books our grandchildren and I love are “What! Cried Granny” by Kate Lum, which our 4 year old grandson could “read” to his younger siblings, even remembering the phrase “the loveliest shade of twilight purple” and “10 Minutes till Bedtime” by Peggy Rathmann.

    I will be checking your blog regularly. From a fellow book lover, Alida

  20. I loved The Art of Racing in the rain. Great blog post! I’ve already headed over to to check some of the mentioned there, so thank you! L.C. Davenport (what a name) is a brilliant author that writes clean romance mystery novels. I just read Alice in Glass Slippers, and it was beautiful and clean and refreshing. Reminded me of a modern cinderella tale.

    Again, thanks for the suggested book and maybe I’ll go ahead and read Gone with the Wind 🙂

  21. I just came across this website and was glad to see that other people are looking for some good clean books. I’m always looking for books for my 91 year old mother-in-law. She doesn’t want any profanity, sex, or violence in a book and she’s not interested in the typical romances either. I found two recently that I am going to recommend to her. One is “When Crickets Cry” by Charles Martin and “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford. Both are incredible stories!

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