Book Clubs without books

Dear Fellow Journalers,

I recently found this article at Book Browse. Interesting…

~Sallie

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, Bookshop.org 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 Libro.fm (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.

 

 

Book Clubs in our new reality

Dear Fellow Journalers,

This is to good an article not to share:

~Sallie

BookBrowse

As we physically distance ourselves from one another to protect public health, staying socially connected remains vital to our sense of community and well-being. For many of us, book clubs are an essential part of that connection, and fortunately, there are a number of options for moving your in-person book club online, joining up with an online club or creating one from scratch. The COVID-19 crisis has even prompted some people and organizations to form quarantine-friendly public book discussions. So let’s look at some ways you can enjoy books with others while staying safely at home.

Tools for Taking Your Existing Book Club Online
Already have an in-person book club but not sure how to meet now that everyone is self-isolating? Below are some easy ways to connect electronically.

Private Groups for Posting and Commenting

To hold your club discussions online in a simple posting and commenting forum, you can easily create a private group on Facebook or Goodreads, which is an especially convenient solution if most of your club members are already on one of these sites.

One advantage to moving your club to these platforms is that you don’t have to set specific meeting times. However, you’ll probably still find some degree of planning helpful to maintaining enthusiasm and smooth communication. To stay organized, set a clear time limit on each book discussion. In general, it’s probably a good idea for discussions to last at least a week, as conversations move slower when multiple people are responding to each other at different times.

You may also want to lay down some ground rules for posting. For example, you can designate one person to get the discussion off to a strong start by creating multiple posts each with a different question or discussion prompt. Then everyone comments to the posts they want to, first reading what others have said just as you would in an in-person discussion. Alternately or additionally, you can make it a different person’s job to introduce new topics every day for as long as the discussion lasts. Really, this all just depends on what your group is comfortable with, and especially with smaller groups, it may be best to simply improvise and see what works.

Note: In addition to the regular posting and commenting features on Facebook, you can use Facebook Messenger for group chats, group audio calls and group video chats (see below).

Group Text Chats

Apps that give you the ability to group chat through typed or texted instant messages, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are great for clubs that would like to hold discussions in real time while avoiding the technology blips that video conferencing might involve.

The biggest challenge with group chats is that they can move very quickly, making it difficult to keep up or get a word in edgewise. To prevent this, limit the group size for each chat. If you have a club of more than five or six members, it may be wise to split up into two or more separate discussion clubs.

To keep discussions from getting too cluttered, introduce topics one at a time. Try loosely planning out the conversation ahead of time and emailing out a list of questions or topics to everyone, or let everyone collaborate by writing out their own ideas for discussion in a Google Doc. Once a new topic is introduced, people can chat freely until the conversation begins to die down, then move on to the next topic when everyone is ready.

Video and Audio Calls

Another option becoming more popular for meetings and communication in general is group video or audio conferencing through services like Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger.

Using video group chats for your book discussions can create a more “normal” discussion atmosphere but might also require more time to get comfortable. You may want to set up a practice meeting ahead of time where instead of having a focused discussion, you just check in to see how everyone is doing and get familiar with the platform’s different features. Once you start your regular club meetings, you can choose a leader for each meeting to plan and guide discussions so that people don’t have to think too much about when to speak or what to talk about.

Group audio calls may be the most challenging book discussion format to pull off, since it can be difficult to coordinate a conversation with a whole group of people and no visual cues. The main benefit of audio calls over video is that they’re often less prone to glitches and other technical issues. Group audio will likely work best for small clubs where everyone is already comfortable with each other. Even then, you may want to make it one person’s role to ask questions that make it easy for people to indicate they have something to say before sharing their thoughts. For example, the person might introduce a topic and then ask, “Does anyone have thoughts on that?”

When considering any of the above advice, keep in mind that while rules and guidelines can be helpful, they should facilitate communication rather than making it more restricted. Don’t be afraid to experiment, be flexible and have fun!

Public Online Book Clubs and Discussions You Can Join or Follow
Whether or not you are part of a private book group, joining or following online book discussions that are open to the public can be a comforting diversion and a useful way to meet new people. Below are a few discussion groups and clubs (some newly hatched in response to the COVID-19 crisis) that anyone can join or follow.

Tolstoy Together is a new ongoing discussion about Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace hosted by the magazine A Public Space and led by Yiyun Li (author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, among other books) that covers 12-15 pages daily. Use the hashtag #TolstoyTogether to participate in this discussion on Twitter, or just follow along with Li’s comments on the blog.

The Translated Fiction Online Book Club is a collaborative effort between several publishers of translated books. Weekly meetings are held via Zoom on Thursdays at 8pm GMT. You can sign up for an invitation here and view the scheduled books at the link above.

Anyone can participate in BookBrowse’s Online Book Club discussions on our site’s messaging forum and you can sign up to be notified when new discussions begin. If you’re a BookBrowse subscriber, you can request a free copy of a book to read before a discussion opens.

Quarantine Book Club lets you purchase a $5 ticket to join a book discussion featuring the book’s author over Zoom. The club has already discussed books by Maria Ingrande Mora, Dan Sinker, Myriam Gurba and others. New discussions are opening all the time!

#ReadWithMC is a monthly online book club hosted by the magazine Marie-Claire that only discusses books by women authors. You can follow the club through Goodreads and submit your own reviews to be featured on the site.

Bonus Option: Postal Book Clubs
Here’s another interesting option for long-distance book discussions with which you may be less familiar. In a recent interview with a longtime postal book club participant, we discussed the fascinating logistics of how some postal book groups work. Books and journals are cycled through a group of people via mail, giving everyone a chance to read and record their thoughts on each book before sending it on to the next recipient. Postal book clubs can be organized through Goodreads or other online platforms.

Some people may understandably have concerns about passing the COVID-19 virus through the mail. The CDC currently states that “there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.” Of course, you should still follow recommended hygiene procedures and discuss any safety concerns you have with your group. For more information on what experts know about how the virus spreads and how you can protect yourself and others, visit the CDC website.

No matter what their format, book discussions can be helpful in fulfilling our mental, emotional, intellectual and social needs. They may have an especially important role to play in our lives now, as they have the potential to help us feel less isolated on both local and global levels.

 

Books that make me happier

 

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes want to run away INTO a book. “Some of the characters have become my best friends”, a friend once told me about a series of books by Debbie Macomber.

What about you? Does your journal reflect any book or series of books that make  you happy? Here are a few new ones to check out:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tarry

A Kestrel for a knave by Barry Hines

I capture the castle by Rosie Smith

The Enchanted Apriil. By Elizabeth Arnim

Raise high the roof beam by J D Salinger

 

~Sallie

 

 

Classic Novels

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Book Bub, a literary website, shared the first results of a recent survey entitled 28 Classic Adult Novels. A lot of those books were assigned to us in high school or college and so I’m sharing some of my favorites:

Pride and Prejudice- by Jane Austen

Jane Eyre-                   by Charlotte Bronte`

Little Women –            by Louisa May Alcott

Rebeca –                      by Daphne cu Maurier

Wuthering Heights –  by Emily Bronte`

A Christmas Carol –   by Charles Sickens

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

War and Peace –         by Leo Tolstoy

Moby Dick –                 by Herman Melvin

~Sallie

The Great Sleepover

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Have you ever dreamt of spending the night in a library? Turns out that the Gladstone Library in Northern Wales, UK is your “Dream come true”. This library, which doubles as a bed and breakfast is 130 years old. There are 36 rooms and each comes with its own collection of books. Guests can stay at the library for one night or months at a time! The library offers many workshops such as the “Writer’s in Residence” and “Writing Animals” all open to anyone at any skill level. Authors share tips and tricks of the trade during a program called “Hearth” which is offered in either November or February each year.

The food offerings vary from locally sourced food to afternoon tea to a traditional Celtic lunch on Sunday.

So, if you’re of a mind and you’re traveling overseas, check out (no pun intended!) The Gladstone Library.

~Sallie

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