2020 has been a year for the history books. We have had to cope with constant uncertainty, loss of loved ones, and lack of social interaction. Vacations, celebrations, and family traditions were put on hold. However, if we only look at the losses, we miss seeing the opportunities and blessings within the crisis. Technology has helped many stay in touch, reach out, learn, work, order groceries, and even see the doctor. Just twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Where am I going with all this? I want to share the amazing emails our readers sent us about book clubs during COVID. The longing to connect with people hasn’t been thwarted by the pandemic. It was challenged, but technology saved the day for many.

According to our readers, book clubs are an essential part of their social and emotional well being. Some of the clubs have been going for over 40 years! Now, that’s some serious dedication. Even introverts enjoy book clubs because of the conversation being focused on books (instead of themselves). (NPR wrote an article on the new trend in book clubs for introverts called Silent Book Clubs.)

Let’s explore some typical questions regarding Book Clubs.

1). How to join a book club. Thousands of online options exist for book clubs bases on genres, interests, gender, and even age. Online book clubs became popular with the launching of Oprah’s and Reese Witherspoon’s book clubs. A quick google search of genre, interest, or age will give you plenty of options.

If you’d like something a little more personal and close to home, you have several options for finding an existing club. Many of these smaller groups have moved online for now but plan to return to normal when it’s safe.

Start by asking people you know. They might not be part of a club but may know someone who is. Ask a librarian. Even if your library is closed, many librarians are active online and usually know about club meetings and members. The same goes for small bookshops. If you belong to a different club or a work or church group, inquire if they have an active book club. The more you ask around, the more options you will find.

2). How to start a book club. If you exhausted your search and can’t find the right club for you, you can always start your own. Setting up your own book club seems daunting, but it isn’t that difficult. Here are a few decisions you will need to make before starting.

  • The number of members – do you want to keep it small or go big?
  • Who will be in charge of scheduling meeting times and hosting? How often and where? Online for now?
  • How to choose books to read? By vote or rotating choices?
  • How structured should the meeting be? Open discussions or structured questions? Time to socialize after or before?
  • If you meet in person, where? Will you serve food? Pot luck or brown bag?

Having these “rules” written out will help keep the club organized. As new members join, they can know the expectations of the group. It can be challenging to come into an existing group and not know what to expect. Let your imagination run wild and don’t forget to make it about connections and relationships.

Many of the emails we received had similar ideas and advice. We picked a few to share with you here. We hope you enjoy these tips as much as we did.

From Marian, who is a member of 3 book clubs:

Book club #1 

The book club has been going on for at least 40 years. There are about 25 members, and an average of 18 attend. Now with Zoom, members who moved away are joining us again.

Step 1 – members submit books to the chairperson in a prescribed format: genre, title, author, a short summary.
Step 2 – the book suggestion list is distributed to the members.
Step 3 – the books are presented to the group by the person recommending it;
Step 4 – voting: everyone wanting to read the book raises their hands, and their vote is counted. Absent members send their votes in ahead, and they are added. The votes are tallied and adopted by the books having the greatest number of votes. We select the top ten books.
Step 5 – We discuss and review books Individuals decide which book they want to review and pick partners for the review (2 reviewers each) Individuals offer to host (previously in their homes, now by Zoom). Reviewers prepare questions to discuss, research book reviews, authors, and relevant historical facts. Wine, coffee, tea, fruit, and cookies served.

Book club #2

We elect books one or two months ahead.
The person who is hosting guides the discussion and may find some questions on the web.
Wine, cheese, crackers, and fruit served.

Book club #3

Members submit suggestions in November.
At the December meeting, the yearly schedule is filled in with a book, hostess, and two reviewers.
Food and wine served. Often far too much food and fun for the group!

From Deborah:

I’m in two Book Clubs currently and find them invigorating. I have become an author, so reading stimulating novels does wonders for my need to study and improve my writing skills.

I had begun a club of my own ten years ago but withdrew from that one due to a conflict on Wednesdays when I give piano lessons. As an alternative, I joined my church’s book club. They meet once a month but disbanded for six months during the pandemic. Now we are meeting at the church instead of in homes, spreading out and wearing masks, a personal choice.

How we select books is not satisfactory to me; therefore, I don’t attend if a book is poorly written. My time is limited; thus, I have to be selective. How they choose books is this: At a meeting, we each bring a book of our choosing and that book is then given a slot in the coming year for us to read. Period. The club has been going on for many years, and the leaders keep a list of which books have been read in the past. All repeat books don’t make it on the list.

I began another new book club on my own; it is small–only four of us. The way we choose books is better. We take turns, and when it’s our turn, we bring 2-4 books to the table. We say something about them. Then vote. With only four people, we rate the voting by making a first, second, and third choice, and then the book that gets the highest markers wins. If a book is the first choice, it gets 3 points, second choice, 2 points, etc. We vary the selections between fiction and non-fiction. This is an ideal way to choose a book to read.

From Penelope:

My son is homeschooled and participates in a paid virtual book club through his English teacher. Every three months, the group meets to discuss the book, play games, do a craft, learn a life lesson – he enjoys them very much, and everything is included in the cost. The kids he meets are lovely, and the environment is very welcoming. The teacher has impressed me with her ability to pull commentary even out of my shy teenage son. I have noticed since he began participating in this type of book discussion group that he is more enthusiastic about reading, is able to retain the details and material longer, and can apply the lessons in the novel to other novels or aspects of his life.

In response to the success he’s having, I’ve started an impromptu book club at my work. Our first book is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It’s already had an effect of bringing us together – and I’m finding that I’m getting to know my colleagues in an interesting way. I mean, I’ve known these people for years, but I’m learning about their thoughts and the way they perceive things in a brand new way. Once things open up, I’m hoping we can all meet up for lunch every three months to discuss our books. Fingers crossed this works because there’s some value added to life with a good book club.

In Summary

Book clubs are as varied as people themselves. I will share my limited book club experience. I have belonged to a book club for years, yet I rarely attend. I’m more of a spontaneous person and dislike being assigned a book to read. I tend to let my mood dictate what I read. My friend finally got me to attend by asking me to host. I agreed, and the book was Where the Crawdads Sing. Honestly, I wanted to read the book, but time got away from me. The meeting came, and I hadn’t read it. I prepared food, and we meet outdoors with masks on in July. Someone else was in charge of the discussion, thank goodness.

I sat quietly listening as the eight people who attended told their impressions of the book. Some liked it, and some didn’t. Some used questions they got online to stimulate the conversation. I was intrigued. I ended up interjecting several times and asking them why they felt the way they did. I wanted to understand their background and how it influenced how they saw the main characters. It was a great evening. I got to know everyone better. As an outsider, I was more intent on listening because I hadn’t read the book and had no personal opinion. Those who read it enjoyed teaching me about the book.

How you decide to run a book club isn’t as important as the relationships created and the enjoyment you get from it. Discussing great books with a diverse set of people teaches empathy and helps you get more out of your reading experiences. Find what works for you and your schedule and enjoy!

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