Are Online Book Clubs “Real” Book Clubs?

Over at my day job, I have the immense pleasure of running a book club for men. We go through a new book each month, rotating between fiction and nonfiction. When I tell people (in person) about it, they always ask when and how we meet. Of course I tell them that it’s an online book club, and I tend to get confused looks in return.

Huh?
How does that work?
How are you supposed to drink wine online?

To those of us immersed in the bookish world, online book clubs aren’t really new or novel or hard to grasp.

For casual readers, though, I think it’s a new type of reading community hurdle to jump over. For some reason we can have all kinds of political or religious or feline discussions over the internetz, but to discuss a book?! Heavens no!

If I’m being honest, I certainly admit that I would prefer to meet in person. But, as a man, there really are not many book club opportunities out there that would make me feel right at home. With online forums, I have the chance to interact with people I never would have otherwise. It also creates a good kind of internet mask – people can say what they really think about something and not worry about dissenting in person and feeling embarrassed. People are far more open to asking “dumb” questions online than in a “real” book club meeting.

Again, when I tell people about our Art of Manliness book club, they seem reluctant to join in. There’s no skin in the game – no real obligation because you don’t have friends keeping you accountable. But, the benefits are far too obvious to dismiss entirely. I’ve had multiple guys email me and say that they’ve been looking for an excuse to read more and this provided it. Or that they’ve come to appreciate a classic that may have been overlooked when it was assigned in middle school. Or, best of all, that they’re truly growing as people.

And isn’t that the best that reading has to offer? That it will help us grow and expand the universe within our mind? If online book clubs can do that, I’m all in.

A few online book clubs to check out (and please let me know what others you find or are a part of!):

  • Art of Manliness Book Club (not just for men, but it is certainly mostly men). We rotate between fiction and non-fiction, and generally stick to classic works vs newer works. We host it through our private community, which is on a Ning network. I post two discussion threads each month for the book of choice, and we sometimes feature Q&As with lit and philosophy experts.
  • 1book140. This is The Atlantic’s Twitter-based book club. They choose a new book each month, which is voted on by readers. They host weekly discussions on Twitter and use hashtags to organize and keep up with the conversation. This has been around a few years, and is quite a unique club.
  • Goodreads. Of course the largest online community of book nerds has more than its fair share of online book clubs. Each club is different, and if you’re looking for a specific format or niche or author to read through, there’s no better place to look. If you’re looking for more of a broad and laid-back book club, my advice would be to look elsewhere. Honestly, the Goodreads groups are just a bit overwhelming. There are SO MANY and even when you find a group, it may have thousands of members, and therefore be overflowing with hundreds of discussion threads (and emails) to read for each segment of book.

Honestly, those are the best three I can point you to (not to toot my own horn, but at least we’re consistent at the Art of Manliness). Many others have tried to create online book clubs (Barnes & Noble, HuffPost) but have simply failed. It mostly ends up being a good idea that fails to be consistent. It will hang around for a new months, and then fizzle out. People realize it’s still a lot of work to run an online book club, and you may not always get good engagement.
I was skeptical of how it would work at first. We’ve been going for almost a year now, though, and I can say it’s one of the more rewarding parts of my job. Sure, we may only get 20 commenters in a month, but that’s 20 people who were inspired to read when they may not have been otherwise. For me, that’s a win.

What do you think about online book clubs? Bookish folks – have you had a hard time convincing casual readers to join in? Casual readers – have you had a hard time buying into an online discussion forum?

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