The benefits of reading books are countless. While books are brilliant on their own, reading can also help connect us each other. In this time of physical separation, a meeting of the minds can be just the thing to ease feelings of boredom and loneliness. Enter the virtual book club.
‘Once upon a time... I joined a book group and it changed my life!
This was a virtual group, but way before the pandemic and Zoom. There was a forum page for members to exchange views, and breakout groups for chatting (that is, texting) on platforms such as MSN and Yahoo.
There was one person who made me laugh more than anyone ever had and who, I soon realised, I was actually logging on in the hope of catching a chat with rather than the “official business” of the books.
We talked about anything and everything. My new friend was a Swede living in Stockholm and I commented on his fantastic command of English: he said he wasn’t so confident in spoken English. So, out of pure altruism, I volunteered to help him practice and we “went on voice.” As soon he uttered his first words something inside me recognised that this was The One. Friendship to love in seconds!
Twenty years on, we are very happily married and we owe it all to the world of books. A happy ever after indeed.’
While we can’t guarantee that a book club will find you your happy ending, a society of book lovers can certainly bring about happiness.
Large Book Clubs to Join
Pre-existing globe-spanning communities of readers
- Reese’s Book Club – Founded and led by actress Reese Witherspoon, this club focuses on books that have women at the centre of the story. You can follow on Instagram if you just want to stay abreast of this month’s page-turner, or you can sign up on the free app to become official. You’ll get a club card, access to a calendar of virtual events and extra surprises along the way.
- ShelterBox Book Club – Though this club has a minimum subscription fee of £10 a month, ShelterBox is a charity that aids disaster-hit families across the world – so you know your money is going to good use. For your £10, you’ll receive a physical copy of the latest book every 6 weeks, and be able to take part in online discussions and exclusive author Q&As. The rest of your contribution goes towards helping families that need it.
- Life’s Library – Author John Green and writer Rosianna Halse Rojas founded this book club that helps fight maternal mortality in Sierra Leone. There are different paid membership tiers (some of which include a copy of the current book), but you can read along and join in the discussion server on Discord without signing up, completely free.
- Silent Book Club – For introverts who crave just a dash of connectivity, Silent Book Club brings people together to read their own books in companionable silence. There’s no fee to pay, no set book, no forced discussion – just reading. Groups across the world (referred to as Chapters) usually meet in cafes, but during the pandemic, Chapters have moved online. Visit the blog to find virtual meetups to join; it’s doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Individual Chapters form their own communities, so the silent events are not without a feeling of community.
- Goodreads – Less of a single book club and more like Facebook-for-book-lovers, Goodreads is a platform that hosts many different communities. You can update your reading progress, choose books to read next, rate your reads and make friends with other users. Of course, there are book clubs too. There are thousands to choose from, or you have the options of making your own.
Do It Yourself
If none of the existing groups take your fancy, create your own!
Maybe you have a really niche taste and can’t find an existing book club that suits. Perhaps you’d rather keep your socialising amongst friends and family. Either way, creating your own club is another great option. The best bit about keeping it local, if you choose to do so, is that you have the option to meet up in real life once it’s safe to do so.
Tips for Starting Your Own Virtual Book Club
- Choose the right tech. How you organise and host your virtual meetups might change depending on the size of the group. A small, exclusive club with fewer members could get by with just a WhatsApp group to discuss which book you’ll read, and a video call in the app itself. Desktop applications such as Zoom or Discord make it easier to see everyone’s faces in larger groups. You might also want to think about using Goodreads or the Groups feature on Facebook to organise yourselves.
- Choose what to read. This is the fun part, although sometimes the trickiest. Decide early on how you will choose the next page-turner. Will you take turns picking a book? Or will you each nominate a title and vote on the outcome every month? Ensure everyone agrees from the start and leave the method open to change.
- Prepare some talking points. For the actual video call/discussion event, ensure you’ve got a list of questions to keep the conversation going. These aren’t a template to follow, but lifelines for your discussion. Oprah (one of the best book club founders) has a list of prompts here.
- Have fun! The point of a book club is often to connect with other people under the guise of being intellectual together. If the conversation strays away from the book to something else, well… it might just be the conversation you need right now.