Essays

How to Create a Virtual Book Club — or Revive One that’s Languishing

Here we are, in our third year of the pandemic, and I’m not in any rush to return to in-person hangs with big groups. While I do miss bonding over shared interests, the idea of meeting up in a packed room remains unappealing when surges keep happening every other month. So how can you safely, remotely spend time with your fellow book lovers? Starting a virtual book club is one idea.

The pandemic very quickly changed the way that people gathered to spend time. Whereas once most of our meetings and parties were in person, many moved online. Holding book clubs virtually became one way for readers to reach out and connect with fellow bookworms, and they continue to thrive even now as we take tentative steps toward spending time with friends in person. Carolina Ciucci’s ode to virtual book clubs pointed out some of the ways that groups like these foster connections, including that they are more inclusive and don’t even have to be entirely local.

For example, I joined an online writing group in July 2020. The group was one I’d wanted to attend in the Before Times, but I couldn’t because it was based at a library that would be hard for me to access during post-work rush hour. When the group decided to reform using Zoom’s digital space, I was no longer limited by traffic or work hours. After wanting to join this group for a year, I finally could. And I’ve stayed since.

The group is small; there are three of us regularly, and occasionally another person or two has attended, so we can easily make time to catch up and discuss books/writing/library news. During the meeting, you can have a drink and a snack, and I’ve even sneakily worn my pajamas once or twice. I love the intimacy of the virtual writer’s group, and am in no rush for it to be moved back to a library space — when it does, the membership will likely grow, allowing for less personal chat, and we would not be allowed alcohol or PJs.

In fact, book clubs and writer’s groups are probably one of the smoother activities to transition online. So what are the steps to get one going — how do you create the club and organize the meetings?

Basic Planning

How big do you want the group to be? I personally suggest that smaller is better because the group’s compactness will build deeper intimacy and keep meetings from running too long. Plus having a teeny-tiny core group will make scheduling much easier, and if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that we need to refrain from overwhelming ourselves with plans. On the other hand, larger virtual book clubs will create more energetic discussions. So that really comes down to how you envision your group. Then there are some other important decisions: choose a genre or theme, a club name, and choose the meetups’ day, time, and online app. You can use Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Teams, or Facebook Messenger. Consider doing some research into which has the best features for you and your club.

Staying in Touch Between Meetings

You can create a Facebook group or What’s App conversation that accompanies your virtual book club. In fact, a consistent side-discussion on a social media site can keep the group dynamic and the conversation energized in between sessions. After all, the group probably exists because you have a shared interest, so you might want to share information or recommendations between sessions.

Share Book Picking Duties

This one is so, so important. No one likely wants the task of constantly being responsible for choosing the next book. Ultimately, all club members should contribute as part of agreeing to join, and they should try to maintain a “yes, and” attitude. Whether you like a certain genre, sub-genre, or author is not the point of a virtual book club — the goal is to discuss. So maybe an unexpected book will be enjoyable, and if not, you have a riveting-yet-respectful debate next meeting. If you just want to read exactly what you already like, you don’t need a book club. That’s just what you read every other day of the year.

If Your Book Club Gets Laggy

Do you already have a group that started strong with engaging conversations but then began dipping in attendance? Are people beginning to send their regrets?

Everything can get routine if you do it for too long, but there are lots of fun ways to reinvigorate your remote book gathering. Pick a new theme, as specific or general as books set on boats, LGBTQ+ romances, or biographies of scientists. Another option is to do something different for a one-off session — maybe you usually read literary fiction but this time you choose a picture book or a graphic novel. Those are shorter but can have very insightful themes for discussion.

Another idea can be using magnetic poetry or the cut-up writing technique to make up silly poems and then discuss those for a session or two. Or find book-adjacent subjects to discuss — songs that remind you of your most beloved books or characters, complete with you playing the song for the group and then explaining why.

Overall, this club is meant to be a fun way for you to spend time with people who like the same stuff as you, so maintain it for as long as it feels like a satisfying, happy outlet for some creative pursuits. And don’t worry about shaking it up a bit and making changes as you go, because your fellow book-pals might even be hoping for a shift in format too.

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