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Why All of My Book Clubs Have Imploded

Steph Auteri

Senior Contributor

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, "The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart," published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at stephauteri.com and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

As someone who prioritizes reading over all other endeavors, who brings a book with her everywhere “just in case of an emergency,” and who deeply wishes that every social gathering would naturally morph into a book gathering (one in which we talked about which books we happened to be reading and what we thought about them), you’d think I’d have no problem settling into a book club.

Yet time after time, every single book club I’ve been in has imploded, or slowly dissolved or, well, I’ve jumped ship myself. Is it me? (I feel compelled to make a Taylor Swift reference here, but I don’t think it’s actually me.) It’s gotten to the point where I halfway believe traditional book clubs are impossible to sustain.

So when I attended a dinner party the other month and met a woman who tried to recruit me into her book club, I was resistant. I demanded a list of previously read books. I bemoaned my already overstuffed schedule.

Then, not even a week later, a close friend tried to convince me to join another book club.

“These are your people!” she insisted, before listing out some previous reads I had also enjoyed. I then borrowed the book they were reading for their next meeting, and it ended up being my favorite read of the year thus far. I’m tempted to join this book club, but I can’t help but be wary.

Could I possibly find true book club love? Maybe… but here are all of the reasons my former book clubs haven’t worked out.

The Impossibility of Scheduling Even Small Groups of People

I like my extracurriculars to be on a consistent schedule. If my “me time” doesn’t appear as a regular event on my calendar, I find it difficult to ensure it will actually happen. Once that recurring event is set up, however, I treat it as inviolable, scheduling other things around it. I just believe that if something is a true priority to me, I can make the time for it.

Unfortunately, book club has not always been a priority for my fellow book club members, a fact that has inevitably led to the slow dissolve of said book club. It doesn’t help when the next book club date is chosen on a meeting-by-meeting basis. Can’t we all just agree to mark off the second Tuesday of each month for bookish shenanigans??

Folks Who Never Read the Damn Book

Speaking of priorities, no matter what book club I’ve been in, there have always been one or two people who never read the damn book.

Maybe I’m an uptight nerd (definitely I’m an uptight nerd), but I see book club picks as an obligation. Even when I have zero interest in the book we’ve chosen, I read it anyway. Otherwise, how are we to have a fruitful discussion the next time we meet?

Even when it’s a slog, I see completing the book as a sign that we all respect each other’s time.

But I get it. I do. Because sometimes…

Every Book Feels Like Homework

There are too many amazing books in this world for me to waste time on those that feel like a chore to read. It’s why I’ve gotten even more aggressive about DNFing books in recent years. I feel enough angst over the fact that I will never have a chance to read All The Books before I die. I don’t want to add to it by forcing myself to read books that fill me with nothing but boredom or dread when I crawl into bed at night.

Sure, I know it’s impossible to love every book club pick ever. And sometimes, a book I wasn’t initially excited about will pleasantly surprise me. But if you’re in a book club that consistently chooses books that make you feel nothing but disappointed and resigned, it’s likely a sign your bookish tastes just don’t align with those of the other members…which is pretty much the main reason I abandoned ship with my last book club. (That and they met on Zoom late in the evening, at a time when I was Zoomed out from my work day and barely conscious.)

Despotic Overlords Who Make Inane Rules

Most book clubs allow members to take turns choosing the next book. Others open up for book nominations and have all the members vote to decide the winner. I love both of these models.

But when you have a regular host who makes rules like, “no nonfiction ever”…let me just say that a nonfiction lover can start to feel resentful.

We’re All Desperate for a Pressure Release From Our Daily Lives

Despite being an uptight book nerd, I do understand the allure of book clubs for those who are not nearly as intense about reading as I am.

Sometimes, we just need a break from our families or a break from our workloads or a break from our other obligations, and being in a book club is the only way we can get that break. Sometimes, we just want to gather with other people and drink wine and stuff our faces with applesauce cake with a salted caramel frosting and laugh until we cry. And book club is an excellent excuse for that. Book? What book?

But as a person who also just wants to talk about books…I’m still holding out hope that I’ll find The One.


If you’re also optimistic about finding the book club of your dreams — or maybe just creating one yourself (build it and they will come!) — check out this guide to setting up your own online book club, and read this post about starting a book club that doesn’t suck. You might also find this post about coming up with good book club questions useful. Or if you’d prefer to just live vicariously through fictional book clubs, check out this list of 8 books about book clubs.