This content contains affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through these links.

Books are always a trustworthy coping mechanism during stressful times. Anything that reading is usually a lonely activity is basically also about community. At the risk of venturing into the territory of Cliché Central, we read because we want to feel connected to others. Book clubs go one step further in this connection. Ramsey of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society said it best: “We clung to books and to our friends; They reminded us that we had another part of ourselves. “

During the pandemic, many book clubs had to stop their face-to-face meetings. However, like many other groups of people who gathered to discuss a common interest, they went to Zoom and other meeting platforms to keep connected. Of course, that had consequences. Sometimes bad, sometimes beautiful. One of the latter is that more people could join. In a sense, virtual book clubs ensured that more connections could be made.

When I started preparing for this article, I did what I often do at the beginning of my research: I sent out a tweet asking people with experience on the subject if they would be willing to ask some questions respond. But unlike the usual three or four responses I usually get, I was surprised when no fewer than fifty volunteers volunteered, all of whom were enthusiastic about their book club experiences. At that point, this article shifted from a strict, “This is how virtual book clubs work” to “… Oh. Something deeper is going on here. “

My very personal experience

This topic piqued my interest for personal reasons: I myself joined two book clubs after the pandemic began. Living alone and now working from home was either finding a way to talk to people or slowly losing what was left of my mind. When I heard about the Readership Book Club, I signed up straight away. While doing research for this play, I met the Beers & Bard Book Club, a fantastic group of people who come together to perform Shakespearean plays over a drink. Although they are based in Austin, Texas, I have been able to attend a few meetings from my apartment in southern Argentina. Talk about maintaining connections.

The demographics

I ended up interviewing almost twenty people. A minority of them ran their book clubs while most were attendees. Some of them were thematic: Shakespeare, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Romance, Anti-Racism, Queer Lit. Others weren’t. Some were run by official institutions, others were made up of friends who got together to discuss books and have fun together. Some of the clubs had made the transition from face-to-face to virtual, while others were always online.

The disadvantages of virtual book clubs

A common thread in the responses when I asked about the differences between in-person and virtual book clubs is that members missed the personal contact they had before the pandemic broke out. Many were also used to meeting over coffee, drinks or food, and they felt that they lacked this feeling of togetherness. Leora Spitzer, organizer of the Jewish Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club based in St. Louis, Missouri, explains: “The biggest differences are in the social time around the meetings, not the discussion itself – some of us went out earlier for example for ice cream in the ice cream parlor next to the bookstore when we met in person. “

Another common complaint concerns technology and connectivity issues. Kathleen Kennedy, a member of the MG / YA discussion group for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Iowa, says, “There’s always a technical problem.” Susan Velazquez, organizer of the Union Square Book Club based in NYC, Agrees: “(…) when people have connectivity issues or (are) have loud background noise during a meeting, that (…) messes up the rhythm because we have to take a break to make sure we are all back on track before we continue the conversation. “

Susan also mentions that “the flow of our conversation tends to move more slowly. Personally, it was much easier to pick up on each other’s conversation cues and figure out when the time was right to join the conversation without interrupting anyone. Now that we meet virtually, there are many “I’m sorry, you move on.” “No, you go first.” “Oh, did you say something? Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt! “

The benefits of virtual book clubs

At the other end of the spectrum, a constantly lauded feature of virtual book clubs has been the ability to connect with people geographically distant. Natali Jornet and Daniela Beunza, organizers of the Readership Book Club based in Neuquén, Argentina, sum it up as follows: “(…) different places: That gave us the opportunity to get to know people from different parts of our country.” Tamara Cherry, member of Bookworms, a book club based in the Greater Toronto Area in Canada, can only agree: “In October I moved two provinces away. One of the most heartbreaking parts of my move was leaving my book club, so it was a great way to virtually translate it into my new reality. After the pandemic, I plan to take part in meetings virtually if I cannot arrange a business trip or vacation with the meeting. “

A related consequence of this wider reach is exposure to different perspectives. Anjeanette Miller, a member of the Anti-Racism Zoom Book Club, highly praises this site of virtual book clubs: “I felt it was a great way to access others across the country because it was virtual. That makes the book club more interesting for me. I think it makes it easier now to be able to discuss these books with others online. “

Virtual book clubs during the pandemic also helped people keep up with their reading habits and fight the slump that attacked so many of us at the height of the lockdown. Anjeanette says: “I admit that I found it difficult to read in the first few months of the pandemic. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read. Having a goal every month helped with that. “

But overall, the biggest perk to virtual book clubs during the pandemic seems to be the sense of community and familiarity. Tamara points out: “We can no longer treat ourselves to food and wine, but when the pandemic happened, our book club took on a new, important meaning. When lockdowns began last year, we were all scared, scared, and insecure. We called a meeting before our next scheduled book club meeting just to talk. It was the first time we did this without a book. Many of us have cried. It was so comforting to have something familiar, even if it was virtual. Since then we have continued our regular meetings virtually every month or so. “

Brittany Bunzey, organizer of The Story Keepers, a book club for children aged 8 to 12, points out the importance of this club to the children: “Our book club really is a community point for the children. In some weeks we didn’t discuss books much because the kids are just gossips and just need to be able to talk to kids their age, but most days we get a solid 30 minutes of book discussion! “

In some cases, the need for community was the catalyst for the club’s existence. Such is the case for the Jewish sci-fi and fantasy book club. In Leora’s words, “Although we had vague discussions about the possibility of a synagogue book group before the pandemic, I think the pandemic was in many ways the catalyst to actually make it a reality. In contrast to many other forms of synagogue socializing, a book discussion lends itself fairly well to the virtual format, and we were all anxious to have more opportunities for structured contacts and encounters. “

In the end we are all grateful

To no surprise, it seems that virtual book clubs are not one size fits all. They have their advantages, but also their downsides; and these are often opposite sides of the same coin. In my opinion, the accessibility is particularly noteworthy: Virtual book clubs enable people who otherwise (be it due to geographical obstacles, disabilities or other reasons) would not be able to attend meetings. On the other hand, the internet has made a lot more accessible, but we must not forget that internet access is also a privilege that not everyone has.

However, during my preparation for this article, I noticed a single common thread: whether people loved the virtual format or desperately wanted to return to normal face-to-face meetings, they were all grateful for the opportunity to bond through their shared love for the books . To my surprise, my article on virtual book clubs wasn’t about virtual book clubs at all: it’s about people reaching out to each other, connecting through something that is essentially community. It’s about love, resilience and surviving these painful last years. Together.