Book groups are like diets: you start them with the best of intentions. I do, anyway. I’m in a number of them right now. They’re nominally making me a better person because they’re forcing me to read stuff I’d otherwise avoid like the plague. Literary fiction. History of any type. This is good for me. If given my druthers, I’d spend my livelong days reading nothing but bizarro horror. I do not want my entire brain to melt before I am at least 40. This means that I need to actually show up for a book group on time and having read the material. Here are seven unique book group ideas I’d actually show up for.
Of all the unique book group ideas on this list, this is the one I’d most like to see in my hometown. A digital book group, The African American Literature Book Club, already thrives on the internet and its website is full of excellence. If an in-person group is more your style, then check out the Black women’s book clubs in Atlanta and Chicago.
If you’re thinking about starting something yourself, then be aware that Left Bank Books has created a Black Lives Matter reading list. It includes The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues by Angela Y. Davis, and The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Friends, America is not an English-speaking nation. It is an English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Pashto, Portuguese, Yoruba, Bengali, Tagalog, and Cantonese-speaking nation, just for a start. It’s time for us to embrace that. We’re a society of unique peoples, which is why we need unique book group ideas.
The Peabody Public Library has a bilingual Portuguese book group that started as a joint effort between a Brazilian immigrant and library administration. Members of the Rincon Literario, an Escondido bilingual book club that focuses on Spanish and English, is also a library-supported effort. This one focuses on teaching English and Spanish to a multi-ethnic group using titles like Bless Me, Ultima.
Real talk: I should have been an ecologist. Not that I particularly love wading through contaminated wetlands testing for mercury, but I’d miss the environment if it were gone, y’know? As a city dweller, I often fret about what I can do to prevent ecological collapse. Maybe you do, too. What can you do?
You can start a book club, that’s what! American University did. You can see their list of enviro-reads at the link, and though it’s a bit dated, it’s not a bad start and includes Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. I’d further recommend Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.
This is exactly what it sounds like: you read a random book. How’s that for unique? There’s a used bookstore in Scotland that will send you an actual randomly selected book from their collection. (Their program is currently full, unfortunately.) If you’d care to embark upon random reading in groups, then your process is simple. Use this random book picker to generate a list of random current, top-selling books. Or use this one, which isn’t as pretty but seems to draw from a larger pool. You can also choose an anonymous book based on its first page at this site. In case you’re looking for an entry to the randomness rabbit hole, try The Islands by Carlos Gamerro, The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy, or The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Dump those Hugo Awards drama queens. Sci-fi is full of LGBTQ people, POC, and women who deserve the light of your midnight book lamp. Lists abound now that the drama has boiled over. The Portalist has a great one for Black sci-fi authors, including a few names we’ve highlighted on Book Riot. Lambda Literary has a review category for speculative fiction by and about LGBTQ people.
There are a few sci-fi book clubs out there, but I couldn’t find any that focused on minority authors and casts. That’s too bad, because some of sci-fi’s most creative works are minority-created, and a unique book group could do quite well for itself by focusing on them. In the age of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor and Provenance by Ann Leckie, it’s really time for us to go boldly into space not occupied by hetero cis white guys. Start with Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney, Everfair by Nisi Shawl, and Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller.
Everyone likes to moan about how millennials can’t adult well enough to sew on a button. (And how they’re destroying everything that apparently matters to someone.) This is, obviously, another prime opportunity to start a unique book group.
Cookbook clubs are one trend that we’ve explored here before, but book groups can take us far beyond the perfect ganache. Imagine, if you will, a club that meets at a local hackerspace, a member’s garage, or an open-minded library. As they discuss this month’s book, they present their accompanying project: eight tiny, perfectly sprouted tomato shoots. Or one hemmed handkerchief. Or photos of a textbook tire change. The possibilities are limitless. Start with Broke Millennial and progress onward to Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.