Everyone needs to read more. It’s a fact of life. There’s nothing bad that can come from curling up with a good book more often. However, there are a million excuses that impede this: no time, no energy, nothing good to read. But with the COVID-19 pandemic came a sudden increase in free time—and reading more would be the perfect way to use it.
In all fairness, it is true that some people just don’t like to read. The perfect fix? Book clubs. Book clubs are opportunities to read more disguised by social time with friends. They were wonderful pre-pandemic activities, with group discussions happening all over the world over dinner or drinks. But now, they’ve evolved into socially distant practices that still fulfill their original purpose.
Book Clubs & The South
There are plenty of virtual book clubs happening right now, including some based in the South. Southern Lady Book Club, sponsored by Kensington Books, is a recently formed group from the Southern Lady Magazine. The magazine itself features sections such as travel, lifestyle, recipes and more. The book club is an exciting (free) new feature that offers perks such as discussion questions, themed recipes and interviews with authors. Their most recent pick is The Moonshiner’s Daughter by Donna Everhart, a moving tale set in the 1960s about teenaged Jessie Sasser and her need to define herself in a world where she feels lost.
The Silent Book Club, established by Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich, has chapters all over the world, including some in Athens, Georgia; Jacksonville, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi. This book club is unique in that there isn’t one book all of the members are tasked with reading. Members read what they want for the first hour of the meeting and then discuss what they learned from their experience. It’s perfect for introverts who aren’t a fan of awkward small talk or free spirits who don’t want to be bound by discussion topics or limited conversation points.
Open Canon, established by North Carolina author Wiley Cash, relates real-world events to monthly book selections. The club dedicates itself to diversity and representation, as demonstrated in the October pick, Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. Bluebird, Bluebird, the story of a black Texas Ranger who ventures back home to solve two murders, analyzes the relationship between racism and community and duty to one’s home vs. duty to oneself. Cash is a New York Times bestselling author himself, having written The Last Ballad and A Land More Kind Than Home.
Famous Names & Online
For those who aren’t based in the South, don’t fret. There are many online book clubs sponsored by big Hollywood names like Reese Witherspoon and Oprah! Reese Witherspoon’s book club has been around for a while and the media company it is part of, Hello Sunshine, has been around even longer. The company itself was launched in 2016, while the book club was initiated a year later. Witherspoon aims to feature books by female authors, stating that she wants to “shine a light on female authorship and agency.” Her October pick fulfills this goal perfectly. His Only Wife was written by Peace Adzo Medie, a Ghanaian writer who explores the way old traditions are rejected by modern women.
And who wouldn’t want to be in a book club with Oprah? Her book club—aptly known as Oprah’s Book Club—dives into beautiful stories and meaningful conversation. Her most recent selection is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, a new title that’s already gained immense popularity for its thoughtful examination of America and her faults. On her website, Oprah features videos of her reading excerpts from and sharing her thoughts about the selected titles.
Book Clubs for the Bored
Book clubs don’t have to follow just one format. From the aforementioned Silent Book Club to #TolstoyTogether—Yiyun Li and 3000 other participants’ quarantine endeavor to tackle Tolstoy’s War and Peace—to London’s The Rebel Book Club, groups everywhere are experimenting with different ways of meeting, conversing and reading. There are options for extroverts and introverts, book lovers and reluctant readers alike.
DIY Book Clubs: Tips & Tricks
As for those who can’t find a group to match their vision, make one. There are plenty of sites featuring tips and tricks on how to start your own book club. So how do you start? Pick a book, of course! The first book is your choice, so try to find something you actually want to read as well as something captivating. Think of the book as your hook, the thing that’s going to draw prospective members in. Find something easy to digest that members can read before the first meeting; although Moby Dick is an iconic choice, maybe it’s not the best for a first read.
Next, it’s time to recruit. Invite your friends first and if you’re comfortable, some new people. It’s a great way to connect with people you want to get closer to, so if you know a notorious reader who happens to be an acquaintance or a friend of a friend, contact them. Today, things aren’t exactly as straightforward as they used to be, so a key consideration regarding new activities is safety. Book clubs can happen over Zoom or in a socially distant manner; bring a mask and a blanket and gather in a local park to discuss.
As for the discussion itself, pull together some talking points and questions that you want addressed beforehand. Write down your thoughts and observations while reading the book and make sure that your questions are open-ended. You want them to spark conversation. If you’re comfortable doing so, maybe even ask a few members to come in with prepared questions and notes. This way, you’ll be ready to combat that first meeting awkwardness that inevitably gets in the way of all those thoughts you’re there to share.
Reading is a difficult thing to make time for; there’s always so much to be done that it gets pushed by the wayside. Book clubs hold you accountable for dedicating time for yourself and your friends. They are a reprieve from a busy life and the books themselves are a reprieve from the uncertainty of this world. But above all, book clubs provide an opportunity to come together, something we need to prioritize first and foremost.