How to Host a Book Club Online During COVID 19
Don’t leave your couch; grab a glass of wine, your notebook and laptop.
There comes a time in every adult’s life when they realise that they’re ready, that they want to attend or even host… a book club! Nothing seems better than chatting with your friends, reading juicy novels and enjoying a glass of wine. But the logistics of a book club, regular meetings etc., can throw people off this amazing activity. That’s why you should host an online book club, to get all the benefits without the ‘hassle’ or added struggles. Find out how to host a book club online during COVID 19, and why Corona isolation is the perfect time for your virtual book club!
Why should you host a book club?
Reading is a great way to destress in a more fulfilling way, rather than mindlessly watching another episode as you scroll through social media, take that 20 or 40 minutes to read a chapter! You’ll stay focused, and work on improving your focus abilities, as well as feel more relaxed and positive. It helps memory, creativity, imagination, writing and speaking skills and more!
As for hosting a book club! It allows you to be held responsible for your reading. It can be difficult to build a new reading habit up, as many of us lose our reading habits over the years since high school.
So don’t jump into a solo marathon and try to read War and Peace on your own with no plan. Instead, aim for a weekly jog with a friend, in the form of a book club! You have to read in time, and so you’ll make the time for it.
It’s fun to discuss the book, and will allow you to enjoy some more social interaction. Too often during COVID — 19 stress, our conversations fixate on it: current affairs, rising infection rates and more. NO! Instead you’ll get to have a chat about a book, about characters and plot lines and things that don’t increase your anxiety or don’t affect your mental health/ mental illness.
It’ll ensure you regularly talk to friends and don’t fall into the loneliness hole, where you struggle to get back out. And that you keep DOING!
Reading a book through a book club also makes you focus more on the novel. You remember more of it because you discuss it. You’re actively reading, pinpointing things to mention, and mulling them over in your mind. You also get the rare opportunity to gain different perspectives on the same text. For example, I read a character in the novel as quite pushy and forward, only to find out the two members of my book club thought he was romantic and eager! It made me wonder why I had written him off so quickly, and meant that when reading the next chapter I made myself open to this other interpretation.
Video Call Options
So it’s decided, you’re hosting a book club, but having a book club during COVID 19 will be slightly different to usual. But an online book club will allow you to keep it up longterm, even in different cities or countries, and stay further connected.
For Zoom, you each create an account, and then one person starts a meeting and sends a link. Zoom only allows 40 minutes for calls with 2+, but sometimes you’ll randomly be ‘gifted’ longer, or you can just send a new meeting link after that time and have a quick wine refill time.
Google Hangouts doesn’t have this limit, but if you use it, you should download this grid view add-on. This allows you to see everyone at the same time, instead of only whoever is talking!
The first time you host a meeting, it might be a bit of kerfuffle as people need to get themselves organised, but after that it’ll be simple and easy! I’m rubbish with technology, and even I can do it!
(That should be a Zoom ad, feel free to hire me Zoom…)
Choosing a Book
This sounds easy, but it actually requires a lot of thought! When discussing our first book club choice, we almost went with ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, as we realised a few of us had a copy but had not read it yet. And whilst I still plan to read this book, after a bit of thought we realised that this wasn’t the best book club read!
You want your novel for the book club to be something you can really discuss. It should be something that sparks debate and conversation, either through controversy, dilemmas or juicy events. As a girls only book club, I thought it should have a bit of sex and relationships, to create some excitement in the group! We also really liked the political/race element of Queenie, our first read. I really recommend Queenie by Candice Cathy Williams for a book club read!
You’ve also got to consider differing budgets/reading preferences. So maybe ensure the book is available second hand on certain sites, or in ebook format e-readers!
Choose a book everyone hasn’t read, so that you can enjoy the first glimpse and fresh reaction, and revel in each other’s nativity at what could come next. Also try to either include everyone’s interests/preferences in a book, or you could decide to take turns choosing the novel for your book club.
Book Club Recommendations
As mentioned, my book club is currently reading Queenie, by Candice Cathy Williams, which is turning out to be a fantastic book club read. It tackles various areas, discussing everyday racism, feminism, one night stands, friendships, journalism and more! It gives us plenty to discuss, and everyone gets quite enthused by the topics.
Here are a few other book ideas for your book club:
1. Little Fires Everywhere — Celeste Ng.
2. Big Little Lies — Liane Morarty.
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot
4. The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas
5. Where’d You Go, Bernadette — Maria Semple
6. Americanah — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
7. The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood
8. Small great things — Jodi Picoult (The ideal author for book clubs, plenty of moral dilemmas!)
9. Daisy Jones & the Six -Taylor Jenkins
10. The Great Gatsby — F Scott. Fitzgerald (a short novella, perfect for readers easing in.)
11. Everything I Never Told You — Celeste Ng
12. The Road — Cormac McCarthy
13. Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro
14. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
15. We Need to Talk About Kevin — Lionel Shriver
Don’t stress too much about the best books for your book club, as you can enjoy any book with the right book club members and questions!
The mistake that a lot of people make, and the reason their book club doesn’t take off, is that they try to all read the entire book first. This usually doesn’t work out. People will read at different paces, feel less motivated, get distracted, and so forth. Plus, if you’re meeting to discuss 250 pages, people will be all over the place, and probably recall different aspects of the book. The book club becomes about the novel as a whole, instead of focusing on specific text extracts and minor events.
Don’t make this mistake with your virtual book club and instead, opt to meet on a weekly basis , or bi-weekly if you really can’t manage. Then every week have a set amount of chapters that need to be read, such as three. This makes it manageable for each member, as they only need to find an hour or so to dedicate to the book and your online book club. This also means it will be fresh in everyone’s minds, so that you have more to discuss and can go over the book in detail.
It’s best to have a weekly date set, and even a time, so that you all have it in your schedules prepped. Otherwise, you may find yourself constantly delaying and rescheduling. Treat it as you would any other meeting or event. You’ve made plans to see your friend, it’s in your agenda, you can’t be late!
Now this one is really optional. But if you’re the one organising the book club, you might find it helpful to take some notes whilst reading, to ensure plenty to discuss in sessions. You might also like doing this if you merely want to get more from the novel.
This can be done easily on an e-reader through the highlight function and notes, or a real highlighter in a book if you don’t mind. I personally can’t bring myself to write on books, and so I have a notebook next to me while I read. I don’t find it too distracting, instead I think it ensures I never unconsciously skim over sections.
I write down lines that stood out, topics that were raised, questions brought to my mind. It isn’t just an analysis of the text, as if you’re back in a high school literature class, but more what the text evokes in you, and possibly others.
If you consider yourself a writer or creative, I would especially recommend taking notes while reading! Even if it’s just specific quotes that reached out to you. You never know where ideas will come from, or things that could resonate with you.
(Perhaps read this novel first, so you can win friends and influence people to join your online book club!)
Things to Discuss
You’ll find set book club questions for a lot of popular books online, so if in doubt you could always keep these as an option. For my book club, I’ve found we don’t need set questions, as enough comes up while discussing. But I definitely do make use of the notes I took.
Begin by asking people what they found of the chapters; how they made them feel, the pace, the emotions. Then try to move chronologically through the text, unless you’re referencing a theme that keeps coming up. This is easier if you’ve separated your notes by chapter. You can discuss specific events that happened, whether this shocked someone. Do they agree with a certain character’s actions? Do they feel they would’ve acted similarly, or can they not relate due to certain situational details?
It’s important to not just consider events, but also what these evoked in yourself. Sometimes you find it relevant to mention certain current affairs, or things it reminds you of. And that’s okay, don’t fear going off topic for a little bit, as it’s still relevant to the book and its meaning to you. A book isn’t just about the words listed within its pages, but everything it evokes, references, suggests and more.
Towards the end of the session, I like to also ask everyone what they think will happen in the book. Whether to a certain character or an upcoming event, even where the novel will lead next. This is fun as it may change weekly, and you can later realise if you guessed right or how off base you were!
Here are a few larger questions you could raise in your book club:
1. Could you imagine a movie adaptation of the book? Or do you think it would fit a series format better, and why?
You can also consider, who would you want to play which role?
2. Or if that’s been done, how do you think it compares? Do you think the casting reflects the characters in the books?
If you haven’t seen it, how do you imagine it to be? And then you can all watch it to discuss that next!
3. How could the book differ if it was written by the opposite gender?
4. Do you feel the book is very grounded in the time and place it is set? Does it have a ‘timeless’ appeal, or does this help it feel more relevant? Be sure to consider how the setting is conveyed, the small mentions throughout.
5. Which character do you each relate to the most and least, and WHY?
6. Is there anything you would’ve done differently as the author?
7. Do you feel the story is plot-based or character driven?
8. How credible do you find the narrator, do you feel that you’re getting the ‘true story’ through their lense?
9. How has your opinion of the characters changed throughout the novel?
10. How does the structure of the book fit the plot and characters?
For example, we’re reading a book that employs a first person narration, so the scenes can be slower, and we have flashbacks throughout when relevant to the text. We also grow more concerned for the character through what others are saying to her, but she remains oblivious to her own state.
11. Has your book changed your view on anything, do you feel different in anyway to before you read it?
These longer questions are just small nudges to the conversation, and you should also focus a lot on specific text questions and discussions. Try not to force the conversation into a certain direction, or just read off a list of questions. To help it flow naturally, follow the conversation as it goes, and slip these questions in when relevant.
Aim for an hour session if you’re going to have it weekly or bi-weekly, so that people don’t feel it is too much of a commitment or get bored. Also allow people to catch up for 5–10 minutes at the start, and then resume that once finished with your book club discussion. This ensures plenty of time for book chatter!
(Ready for my online book club!)
Book Club Etiquette
Fancy people who book club should certainly follow the appropriate book club etiquette.
If you are hosting a book club in person, you would take in turns to bring snacks and drinks. But since you’re doing an online book club, you only have to worry about yourself! I recommend having a drink with your virtual book club, as it can really boost the atmosphere to see you all sitting with your glass of wine or glass of non-alcoholic drink. You could also have some crackers with cheese at the side, or some nibbles. Avoid eating a meal, like dinner, as you’ll be distracted and potentially noisy.
Don’t try to enforce ‘rules’ at the start, as otherwise it may feel quite uncomfortable and forced for everyone. So only bring up things when they become an issue. For example, you really want to have one person speaking at a time. This is helped by having a smaller group, but can still be a struggle over video call. So just advise everyone to be wary and stop as soon as another starts. When you’re doing a virtual book club, it really is vital for everyone to have their camera on. This helps you feed off each other’s energy, and will feel more natural and fun.
Everyone reading the chapters before meeting is truly a must. So really instill this , and hopefully everyone should want to read them if you’ve chosen a good book. If someone hasn’t had the chance, maybe push the meeting back an hour so that they have that time.
But remember, a book club is meant to be fun, and a virtual book club is no different! Enjoy this (online) time with your friends as you discuss some of the best works of literature. If you have another book club recommendation, pop it below!