How to Start a Virtual Book Club
Back at the start of 2019 (which now feels like eons ago), I vowed to read more as my new year’s resolution. I knew that in order to trick myself into actually following through on this, I was going to need to add some sort of social element and thus, my book club was born! It’s now been active for 23 months (which is absolutely CRAZY to me) and we’ve read dozens of books, consumed hundreds of bottles of wine and have even gone on a retreat together!
When the pandemic hit back in March, we all scattered around the US - some stayed in New York, some returned to their hometowns, some hopped around, but we still managed to continue meeting virtually via Zoom. Though it’s certainly not the same as crowding around a charcuterie board in my tiny Manhattan living room, it’s been nothing short of a treat to be able to have a consistent group of wonderful humans I get to see at the end of each month.
If you’re feeling a little isolated this year, perhaps starting a virtual book club is the perfect way to connect with friends new and old, near and far! Here’s how you can do it:
1 - Find your people.
Originally, our book club was limited to people who were in New York City who could commute to the Upper West Side, but of course with everything going digital, the scope for potential members really has no ceiling. Announce on your social media that you’re recruiting members for your book club, and ask interested parties to DM you! Be sure to provide info about the start date and the approximate day each meeting will be on. My book club meets on the last Thursday of every month.
2 - Organize your info.
Figure out how you’re going to contact your members! I like email because it’s a little more formal and organized than a text message. Don’t forget to bcc everyone, obviously! I always send out the book club email for the following month a couple days after our meeting, so people have as much time as possible to get the book and read it. Then, the week of the meeting, I’ll send a reminder email usually on Sunday. Our resident Zoom expert then sends me the link for our meeting, and I’ll send that out the day of so it doesn’t get lost in inboxes.
3 - Select your first book!
There are many ways to do this. Some groups will follow a guide created by tastemakers like Reese Witherspoon or Oprah, some groups will stick to a specific genre, some groups will plan out the entire year at the beginning. Our group has done this two ways. In the early days, we would all write down book suggestions and draw them out of a jar each month. This worked well, but there was a streak where we kept drawing the same person’s submissions each time for about four months! One of the members suggested we each take turns choosing the book, preparing discussion questions, and then leading the meeting. That’s what we’ve done throughout most of 2020 and it’s been largely successful! We’ve pretty much all universally loved almost everything we’ve read!
4 - Structure your meetings.
This is more organic and free-flowing and probably doesn’t even need an explanation, but the best part about book club is the social aspect. I always make it a point to check in with everyone as we each trickle into the Zoom meeting. It’s been so nice getting updates about everyone’s lives, especially while we’re all scattered about the country. We also spend some time chatting at the end of the meeting. For most of us, this is our big *social interaction* for the month, so we like to milk it a bit.
5 - Fun, extra things.
In the fall of 2019, our book club went on a retreat to a beautiful lake house about an hour outside NYC. It was a cozy weekend of relaxation, fun, and a brief change of scenery from the concrete jungle. We were in the early stages of planning a spring/summer retreat for 2020 when the pandemic hit. In quarantine, we’ve replaced the retreat with a virtual game night (we had one back in May and just had another this past week). Though it’s not quite the same as being on location somewhere, it’s still a fun little switch-up of the usual routine, and a great way to continue getting to know everyone.
Last year around the holidays, we had an impromptu cookie-swap as well. We all made our favorite Christmas cookies, and then each person took some home in a little to-go box. It was the perfect last, touch-base before we all went home for the holidays and ended the year apart. This year, we’ll be doing a distanced secret Santa, which I’m really excited about!
6 - Transitioning from year to year.
At the end of each year, I send out an email to the entire list and basically ask people to reply if they’d like to continue getting book club emails. Many people over the months stop coming but stay on the email list, so this is a good opportunity to purge inactive members and give their inboxes a break! I also will usually ask members if they have any friends who might be interested in joining, and may even post on my own Instagram as well. It’s a tricky thing, because though it’s fun to have a lot of people interested, it’s hard to have a discussion with too many people! The largest our group has ever gotten in a single month is about 13 people crammed into my tiny living room. Trying to corral that many people on a Zoom call would be an even trickier task! It may take some trial and error, and you truly never know what you’re going to get in terms of monthly turnout, but it keeps it fun and allows the dynamic to be ever-changing.
All this to say, I know the concept of a book club is a bit cliche - it makes you think of white wine, ladies who lunch, and basic bitches, BUT I will say that we have had some of the most beautiful, profoundly connective discussions with this group, and they have become such a wonderfully supportive and consistent family, ESPECIALLY during COVID times.
Any questions? Just lemme know!