Book Clubs without books

Dear Fellow Journalers,

I recently found this article at Book Browse. Interesting…


Book Clubs Without Books!

Kathleen recently wrote saying, “My book group is at a stalemate during the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s hard for our members to get the next book. We read in print and most of us prefer to borrow books from the library, but we can’t at the moment because the library building is closed. How can we keep our book club going?”

Step one is to temporarily move your in-person book club online. Our previous post, Safe Book Club Ideas in the Time of Social Distancing offers tips on this (and it’s much easier to do than you might think!)

Step two is to find creative ways to keep discussing, even though you might not have access to the library. Here are 15 suggestions which will be particularly relevant to groups that normally borrow print books from the library, but most could be used at any time by any book club that’s looking for ideas to keep their group fresh.

  1. Read short stories online
    There are many sources of books online, such as Project Gutenberg, that are out of copyright and are thus legally free to download. If you’re looking for more contemporary books, then BookBub is a good source for locating free or substantially discounted ebooks. But it can be tiresome reading books without a dedicated e-reading device, and also there are logistical hurdles to go through to download books. Instead, consider short stories. Even members not normally comfortable reading online might feel up to reading one or two short stories; and there are so many amazing stories available, both from current and classic collections.
  2. Buy local
    Even if you normally borrow books from the library, if you have the funds to do so there’s no more important time to support your local bookstore than now. Many are open for pickup, or will deliver or mail books. An added incentive is that they will deliver a great deal faster than a certain online retailer who has deprioritized book deliveries, which can now take up to a month. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a local bookstore, offers competitive prices and gives a portion of their sales to indie bookstores.

  3. Try audio books
    If you can’t or don’t want to buy print books, and don’t want to read electronically, this could be the time to explore audio books. There’s a huge selection at (and some great bargains in their sale section), and you’ll also be supporting independent bookstores.

  4. Pick a topic or genre
    Instead of the group picking a single title to read, agree on a topic, theme or genre, and have members of the group choose a relevant title from their own book shelves. For example, a memoir of a famous person, a book set in Europe during World War II, or an amateur detective novel. You might start your meeting with the members taking turns to introduce their book and explain why they chose it and what they think of it; and then open up to discuss similarities between the books. For example, if comparing amateur detective novels, you could discuss whether there are characteristics that the detectives generally have in common or what draws you as a reader to the genre. You could also compare the writing styles, e.g. books narrated in the third person compared to first person voice, or whether the book is character or action driven. You’ll find more ideas on our DIY reading guide page.

  5. Share what you’re reading now
    There are many successful book clubs that never read the same book, they simply get together regularly to discuss and recommend books they’ve recently read. Although their model may not be directly applicable to an adult group, the Young Critics book club at Perrot Memorial Library is a good example of this arrangement. So, instead of picking one book for everyone to read, simply come to the meeting ready to tell your group about a book you’ve recently read. You might want to coordinate ahead of time to make sure that multiple people don’t pick the same book to talk about.

  6. All the world’s a stage
    Watch a play on TV and then discuss it together. Playbill offers a schedule of upcoming and current broadcasts, including from The National Theatre in London.

  7. Stroll down memory lane
    Revisit the books you’ve read with your group in the past, and discuss which have been your favorites and why. Alternatively, given the fallibility of the human brain, it might be prudent to agree to revisit individual books that particularly resonated and give members time to refresh their memories of the particular book (e.g. by reading past reviews, or even reading the book itself if it’s still on the shelf). The further back in time you go, the more interesting the discussion could be as we all evolve over time as experience shifts our perspective. This could be particularly interesting if your book club keeps notes on what you read, as you could compare what your group discussed then and now.

  8. Conduct a book club health check
    In our recent research report, The Inner Lives of Book Clubs, we found that many successful groups regularly set aside time to talk about their group, asking themselves what’s working well, what could be improved, and what new ideas they’d like to try. Now could be a great time to step back from your regular schedule and conduct your own Book Club Health Check.

  9. Plan ahead
    Your library will open, even if only partially, before too long. So plan ahead and decide on what books you’d like to be reading a few months from now, and see if your library has them in stock. If your library carries “book club in a bag” kits, one member could be responsible for picking up the kit and delivering the books to members who need to stay indoors.
  10. Get involved
    Many book clubs choose to do things as a group in addition to their discussions. While many of the traditional activities, such as going to events together, may be off the table for now, there are so many volunteer groups currently looking for help. Perhaps your group could spend a meeting discussing how you could get involved? You might also want to open up the floor for members to share if they have needs of their own that others in the group can help with. There are many articles offering suggestions, such as this. You might also wish to explore library advocacy. Many libraries are likely to be struggling for funds in the near future as states look for ways to balance their budgets, and they are going to need voices in the community to speak up for them.

  11. Watch a movie
    Choose a book that you’ve read in the past and watch the film version, then meet to discuss. You’ll find almost a decade’s worth of recommendations in our Books to Movies section.

  12. Become an art club
    Books are just one art form. How about turning your group from a book club to an art club for one or two meetings? Pick an artist or artistic style to explore, encourage people to do some background research, and then meet to discuss your thoughts. There are many sources that offer advice on discussing art including Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. You could do the same with other art forms such as music or dance.

  13. Take inspiration from the literary salons of old
    The salons of yesteryear didn’t limit themselves to discussing books, instead they discussed ideas in general. For example, you could pick a philosophical topic or two, encourage members to do some background reading, and then meet to share your thoughts. You might already have discussed the topic in your book club at some point, but by removing the book from the equation, you will be free to explore the topic as broadly as you wish. There are many sources of topics.

  14. Share expertise
    We all have specialist knowledge. You could ask your members to share some of their own knowledge with the group in the form of, say, a 20 minute talk. With the power of video conferencing, you could even have demos. For example, if you have an expert baker in your midst, or a yoga guru, they could share tips and techniques by video. It’s unlikely that everyone in the group will have the time and inclination to prepare a talk, so this should be optional.

  15. Invite an author
    Invite an author whose book you’ve already read to your video conference. Many authors who are open to chatting with book clubs will provide contact information on their website or social media presence.



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