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Our Reading Lives

To Club or Not to Club? The Benefits of Reading Alone

River H. Kero

Staff Writer

River Kero (he/him) is a queer Canadian artist who has just graduated with a BFA and lives in Vancouver, BC. His practice consists mostly of graphic novel work, scriptwriting, prose, and illustration. He lives with his younger brother, their dog Pogo, and his cat Matilda.

While in quarantine, many of us have realized that we need community. It’s human. We crave the company of others. Too much isolation isn’t good for anybody. That said, with the rise of BookTok has come an emphasis on the “reading community.” Do we need book clubs and a community, or are there merits to reading alone?

Of course, there are benefits to not being alone when you read, especially if reading is your favourite hobby. It’s nice to get your social itch scratched. It’s nicer to be able to share your passions with people you care about. That said, should we feel compelled to seek a literary community?

Do We Need BookTok?

My argument is that you shouldn’t feel necessarily compelled to seek out a reading community simply for the sake of doing so. There is an emphasis on sharing what you’re reading with others, seeking opinion, and participating in online communities.

However, I sometimes find that the way I interact with bookish communities is more from compulsion than actual desire. For example, a lot of my time spent on BookTok has been to promote my work. Do I really want to spend my free time on a hobby that crosses over with my work? Additionally, reading is an escape for me and a chance to unplug from social media. Relating one of my hobbies back to social media does not particularly appeal to me.

I have gotten great recommendations from BookTok and other communities. I have also gotten not-so-good ones. That said, communities always come with drama and politics. In my opinion, anyone who wants to read without social media engagement would be fully justified in doing so.

BookTok is definitely a fun time, but I have also noticed that I see many of the same recommendations again and again. Some of them are good, but there is an overemphasis on YA and fiction and an under-emphasis on nonfiction. Of course this is only a general experience, but it has led to me being disappointed in a few over-hyped books.

How About Book Clubs?

Aside from avoiding drama and the stress of social media, what other benefits are there to reading alone? So far, I’ve only talked about online book communities. In-person book clubs are coming back. Should you join one?

I have felt the pressure to join a book club. After all, aren’t most voracious readers part of a book club? In the end, I decided not to join one, after all. I looked around and I didn’t see any that appealed to me.

My other reason is that I am generally anti-club. I have one gym membership, and I sorely regret it. Additionally, I hate reading “fun” stuff on a deadline. I’m an unintuitive reader. I pick books up, put them down, pick them up again later, and so on. The idea of conforming my reading habits to fit a schedule does not appeal to me.

However, if you have steady reading habits and you really value talking in depth about what you’ve read with others, book clubs might be a necessity for you. Book clubs can have a ton of value

Your Thoughts or Theirs?

I have a habit of looking up Goodreads reviews of books or checking the star rating system on StoryGraph before I pick up a book. As of now, I am unsure if this is a good habit or a bad habit. Doing this has stopped me from picking up books before, but reviews have also led me to pick up books that I ended up disliking quite a lot.

I don’t have a specific point with this aside from to get you thinking. I like to judge books by reading them, but I also like to spend my money wisely. I’m still on the fence about whether or not I want to keep this habit or delete my Goodreads account for good. That said, looking up reviews on sites such as StoryGraph where people can list triggers and content warnings can be extraordinarily helpful. Additionally, I liked getting a heads up about the general mood of the book from these sites.

So, yeah. I’m definitely still on the fence.

Striking a Balance

Isn’t life all about balance at the end of the day? To club or not to club doesn’t matter, so long as you are able to read happily and unapologetically.

In the constant act of adjusting and readjusting, I find myself changing my mind about how active in the book community I want to be. I love to read books and chat my friend’s ears off about them, and there’s something so fun about talking with someone who has also read the book. And I enjoy getting recommendations and hearing the perspectives of others.

I also love not conforming to a deadline. I don’t enjoy assigned reading. I’m also very picky about what books I like to read, and my tastes are kind of unconventional when compared to many trends.

Bookish communities have given me a great deal. Recommendations, acquaintances, and new ideas. That said, sometimes I want to fall into a book without social media, talking to anyone, or having to report my thoughts to an outside source.

Sometimes, I just want to enjoy reading alone.