I have been in many book clubs over the years—some conducted through work, others founded to make new friends in a new city, and those where the focus was more on wine than the book—but the only one that has withstood the test of time is my virtual book club. Founded five years ago, my online book club contains only three members: my friends Alyssa and Johanna, and me. Alyssa is an editor living north of Boston; Johanna is an ontologist with a library science degree living in Seattle; and I’m a digital product manager working in publishing and living in New York City. Alyssa and Johanna are two of the biggest bibliophiles I know, and with our homes spread out across the country, starting our book club was a natural solution to the problem: we missed each other and also wanted to talk books together.
Since many of you may be newly navigating this world of virtual hangouts, let me share with you five reasons why I absolutely love my virtual book club, followed by some of the books we’ve enjoyed along the way.
Connection. First and foremost, my virtual book club gives me an opportunity to see and connect with two of my book-loving friends who live across the country. I saw Alyssa in person only twice last year and I haven’t seen Johanna in person in over two years, but it doesn’t feel that way—the three of us have become better friends by meeting virtually every month. Funnily enough, when we all lived near each other in the Boston area, we saw each other less frequently than we do now. During this uncertain time of social distancing, I’ve had lots of video calls with friends and family that have felt a bit odd because we’re not used to communicating virtually, but video chatting with Alyssa and Johanna for our book club has brought me a sense of normalcy.
Flexibility. When you’re meeting for your book club from your own home, it’s really easy to be flexible in your scheduling. You don’t have to worry about commuting, and you can also fit in a quick dinner or workout before you meet. With only three of us, if someone needs to reschedule, it’s easy enough to pick a new time and date. It takes much less effort to reschedule your virtual time than an in-person time and place.
Comfort. Sweatpants! Really—how great is it to hang out with friends and discuss literature while wearing pajamas? It’s very reminiscent of our college days. After a long day at work, sometimes the last thing I wanted to do is go out and be social. But with our virtual book club, I can have all the comfort of being at home and still engage with my friends. It’s a low-effort, maximum reward situation.
Affordability. A virtual book club is really affordable! It removes the extra costs caused by hosting your book club at a bar or restaurant, and it doesn’t require a member to purchase drinks and snacks when hosting at home. Additionally, when we pick the next month’s book, we make sure to determine which books are available to check out at the library or might be on sale; that way, no one is spending money on a book they can’t afford to purchase or aren’t interested in owning. Although I love collecting books, it’s a bit of a risk to purchase a new book every month when you’re not sure in advance if you will like it. Non-virtual book clubs take note, because this tactic of ours could help you out with affordability as well.
Conversation. While thought-provoking discussion should hopefully occur in any book club, it’s often longer in virtual ones since we don’t have to cut it short for fear of being too tired for the commute home. And, over the years, we’ve had some great conversations about all kinds of books. Though we each have our personal preferences for genre, we’re open-minded about reading any book on the shelf. We’ve read everything from literary fiction to celebrity memoirs, serious nonfiction to young adult novels, historical fiction to thrillers. And with help from book club discussion questions, we’re able to dig deep into each book. Our conversations reinforce why we love reading: reading challenges our experiences and understanding of the world; it breeds empathy and makes us better people; it allows us to escape our own worlds for a bit; and it lets us fall in love with a fictional character or learn about an important person in history. It keeps us connected to the world around us. “We read to know we are not alone.” (C.S. Lewis)
In five years, we’ve read 45 books together. Here are a few of our favorites to help you kick off your own virtual book club!
Check out Off the Shelf’s Virtual Book Club post for more tips on starting your own engaged, online club from your couch!