Practicing “social distancing” but have a book club meeting coming up? Here are some options.

Adrian Liang on March 16, 2020

Book club during COVID-19

If your book club takes place in a living room, at a bar or restaurant, or in a community center or library, the new guidelines on social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19 might make you think your book club should go on hiatus.

My book club is reading Sea People by Christina Thompson, a nonfiction book about the discovery of the true history of the Polynesian people. It’s not a quick read—we’ve joked that watching Disney’s Moana will be accepted as a substitute for those who are bogged down—which is one reason that we haven’t yet scheduled our next book club meeting. With health authorities now recommending that we stay six feet apart to slow the spread of COVID-19, meeting in person might be a tough sell to our book club members.

But we love books. And we love talking about books.

What to do?

Create a Goodreads Group. Goodreads makes starting a group easy. The group moderator can make the group “private” and invite only those in your book club to the group, or can even make your group “secret” if you want to keep your book group’s existence deep undercover. Decide whether you’re all going to log on at the same time and fill up the discussion board with your questions and feelings, or decide whether the book club discussion will roll on over several days or a week. Then decide, together, on your next book to read via the poll function.

Move your book club to a Facebook Group. Seen that ad with the kazoo lovers who are in a Facebook Group? Be cool and start your own “closed” Facebook group to which you’ll invite your book club members. As with a Goodreads Group, you’ll want to figure out if you will go online at the same time to post questions and reply to other members’ questions, or if your discussion about the book takes place over a period of time. If you decide to get online all at the same time, use the Event function to put it on your members’ calendars so everyone remembers. Once your intense book club discussion is over, use a Poll to decide on your next book to read.

Instagram group conversations. If either of the above sounds too complicated, you can jump onto your Instagram account and get chatting about the book there. Start a group conversation with your book club members via Instagram Direct Messaging, and message easily amongst yourselves. You can also do a video chat on Instagram with up to six people and talk about the book that way.

Use Discord or Skype to have your book club meeting by voice or video. Business teams might be more familiar with Skype, while the younger or more digitally savvy crowd might lean toward Discord. (I am not digitally savvy; I called Discord "Discourse" for about three weeks before my teenager set me straight.) With Skype, you can have up to 50 people talk over video at the same time, while Discord allows 10 people to talk over video for free. Other options for video chatting include FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Slack. Pick whichever matches best with your book club’s level of tech interest and ability, but make sure the app can handle the number of people in your book club.

Take a thoughtful pause and concentrate on the books you want to read. I love my book club because it encourages me to read books I might not otherwise make the time for. (BTW, I thought Sea People was a fascinating read. I want to go to New Zealand now more than ever, plus learn how to steer a boat by the stars.) But without a book club meeting on the calendar, I can read the books I’ve put aside, thinking I’ll read them “someday.” Someday is here.

Ultimately this time of social distancing can be an opportunity for solitude and renewal. Author Katherine May, whose book Wintering releases later this year in the US, recently shared these words of wisdom with the Amazon Books editors:

“Time is slowing down, and there are gifts to be enjoyed. [Social distancing] will open up a space in which new things will be made, new ideas fermented, new experiences found. And it will end, eventually.”

Stay well, everyone.

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