From which platforms to use and the best books to read, bibliophiles share their advice.

By Caroline Biggs
August 27, 2020
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Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

The only thing better than cuddling up to a good book at home is knowing that your friends are reading it, too. However, with social distancing measures and stay at home orders in place, hosting a traditional book club might not be a possibility. Here's the good news: Virtual book clubs are gaining popularity and they're easy to join. "You can very easily turn your group chat into a book club with a simple text," says Cody Stuart Madsen, senior manager at Book Culture, an independent book store with four locations in New York City. "The best part about the virtual book club experience is that no one has to host! No coordinating food or space reservations, no commute before or after, and you don't have to turn your camera on until you're ready to start."

Interested in coordinating your own virtual book club, but not sure where to start? We asked a few book club experts to share their advice.

Designate a leader and pick a platform.

Before you can host an online book club meetup, you'll have to work out the logistical details. "The most successful nascent book clubs have one designated person in charge of the logistics—securing the meeting link, sending out the schedule, and so on," Madsen says. "The leader doesn't have to lead the meetings, but if one person isn't responsible for ensuring the meeting is on everyone's calendar, the club will be hard to get off the ground." If you're unsure about which online platform to use, Renee Heitmann, co-founder of Ladies First Astoria, says you can't go wrong with Zoom. "It's super accessible; you can show up in sweats and join from your couch," she explains.

Keep members to a minimum.

While it's tempting to think that the bigger the book club, the better, Julia Fleischaker, owner of independent bookstore Greedy Reads in Baltimore, Maryland, says it's smartest to keep members to a minimum. "I've found that around 10 to 15 people in a virtual meeting is our sweet spot," she explains. "It's enough people to get a variety of opinions and reactions, but not so big that people are talking over each other or struggling to be heard. I prefer a spontaneous conversation, which is easier with a manageable number of people."

Narrow down which books to read.

Once you've reached out to members about when and where to join your virtual book club, it's time to pick a book to read. "Not everybody is going to like every book, and that's okay—sometimes, the discussion actually suffers if everyone loves it," Fleischaker says. "Try to dip across genres. You can have separate, specific clubs for romance, sci-fi, and so on. Reading only recent award winners, or translated fiction, or whatever parameter you decide on, can be a good way to narrow down your seemingly endless options, while still keeping the club open to a wide variety of reading experiences."

Choose a format.

In order to make sure everyone is on the same page—pun intended—in your virtual book club, Fleischaker says it's important to give every member plenty of time to read at their own pace. "For the first couple meetings try to pick books shorter than 200 pages," he says. "I applaud the book clubs that start out with War and Peace, but a less daunting start will help everyone establish the routine and allow for orders from local bookstores and libraries to arrive with plenty of time to finish before the next meeting."

If you're interested in creating a book club without any assigned reading, Laura Gluhanich of Silent Book Club suggests scheduling a weekly meetup where members read together—silently. "Everyone gathers, shares what they are reading, and then there is 15 to 45 minutes of sustained silent reading," she explains. "It is lovely to read in companionship with others, and is a great way to get book recommendations."

Prepare for discussion.

Whether online or in-person, the best thing about joining a book club is getting to discuss the reading with other members. "Come with some questions prepared to keep the conversation flowing," advises Fleischaker. "Do your best as the leader to keep the meetings judgement-free, and try not to be defensive if people don't love the book you've chosen. After all, those different reactions and the conversations they lead to are the reason that book clubs exist!"

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