Adventures in Book Clubbing

I decided in the beginning of the year to look for a book club, as a way to meet new people and talk to people in person about books. I’m not sure if the live interaction of a book club is something I’ve been missing; in fact, I started this blog after years of feeling dissatisfied with book clubs.  My book club way back when was a great way to get together with friends, but often a lousy way to choose and talk about books.

Would it be nice to get together with good friends over wine & cheese and talk about books?  It would, and I miss those days, but most of my friends have kids and more complicated lives than I do.  Plus, with most of us teleworking a couple days a week, the easy happy hour seems to be a thing of the past.  Sigh.

Finding the Right Club

As I started thinking about in-person book clubs, I could see three ways to find one.  The first was asking friends if they are in a book club they like.  I’ve been doing that casually, but what I’ve heard is that friends are either in a closed club (like in their neighborhood) or they don’t have time for one.

The second is looking at local bookstores who host book clubs.  My favorite bookstore, and closest to my house, wasn’t choosing books I was interested in.  My neighborhood hosts a couple of book clubs, but with the same issue. I guess I’m on the picky side.

The third I discovered by googling book clubs in my city. is a website for hosting all kinds of clubs, and I was amazed by how many different book clubs were going on right in my area. One advantage of Meetup is that these are clubs actively looking for new members, so I can jump right in.  I can see where they meet, when, how they describe themselves, and what they like to read.

What am I looking for in a book club?

  • Books I want to read! I don’t have to love each book, but I should at least be interested and challenged.  If there’s not a reading list of a few months out, I need to at least see the last few books the club has read.
  • I need to fit in with the group, mainly age-wise. There’s no point getting together with a group of women in their twenties because I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.  Women only is fine, or a mix of men and women.  My preference is for a group that’s diverse (age, gender, nationality, etc.)
  • It needs to be at a place and time I can easily get to.
  • It would be good to know the books a few months out. A lot of clubs choose books month to month, which is annoying.  I like to plan ahead.

I signed up for a number of book clubs on Meetup, and so far I’ve been to four of them.

Meeting Up

meetupGeneral observations: these Meetup groups are not like the book clubs I used to be in.  Because it’s a more open group of people, these clubs are less about friendship and much more about the books.  Which totally satisfies my need to talk about books but makes it a bit difficult to actually meet people.  The first group I went to had only four people, two of us newbies, and yet there was almost no introduction or get-to-know-you.  The club leader just dove into the discussion, equipped with all kinds of handouts and background information about the book.  I enjoyed the discussion very much but was a bit taken aback that no one seemed interested in who I was.

The second and third clubs were more social, but still, I had to do a lot of the work of introducing myself and finding out about others — which as you might guess is not my strong point.  My sense is that people jump in and out of these clubs, so no one besides the leaders are super committed and no one expects to know everyone else.  A lot of people on Meetup are in multiple book clubs, so these clubs have hundreds of members even if only 15 show up.

My sister said, “so showing up at these book clubs is like going on a blind date?”  Well, yes. A little. I was nervous the first time, walking into a restaurant looking for people I’ve only seen tiny pictures of online.  I was pretty low-key the fourth time.  Meetup actually has this feature where people can send a “nice to meet you” after the event.  It’s a small gesture but still felt good.

It’s All About the Books

All four groups had really thoughtful discussions about the books, and all four are reading books I’m interested in.  All four met at local restaurants, which makes sense if you’re opening your club up to random people.  I think you lose a lot by having to meet in a restaurant rather than someone’s home, in terms of time ordering food, expense, and noisiness/space.  But again, it’s easier to dive into something with people you don’t know in a restaurant rather than in their home.

My favorite club is reading books by women from/about other countries.  Our first read was Here Comes the Sun, about Jamaica, and I’m excited about the other upcoming reads (The Poisonwood Bible and Persepolis).  The club seems organized, I liked the meeting location, and I really liked the people I met there.  The science fiction/fantasy book club also has a great reading list, but it’s a huge group (24 seats), and apparently fills up every time, so there’s usually a wait list.  I really liked one group (a “women and wine” book club) but they meet on Saturday evenings, which just doesn’t make sense for me (Saturday nights are dedicated husband-time).

What’s Next?

I need to narrow down to a couple and go back a few times, to get a better sense, and then I’d like to focus on just one going forward.  I don’t have time for more than that.

I’m still exploring the idea of bookstore and neighborhood book clubs, so I’ll save that for another post.

I could start one myself if I don’t find one I like.  My husband asked why book blogs don’t have live online book discussions.  He’s in gaming groups that talk to each other regularly, and he’s surprised we book bloggers don’t talk more.  For one thing, I suppose different time zones would be an issue. For another, I suppose there are enough local book clubs to make a dial-in book club unnecessary.  What do you think?

The question I keep coming back to (and haven’t answered yet) is whether in-person interaction around books is something I need.  Maybe book blogging is more than enough. In that case, there are other groups on Meetup that sound like fun, like wine tasting groups, childfree groups, board game clubs, etc.

If you’re in a book club, what works and doesn’t work about it?  And if not, is a book club something you’ve done before, or something you want to do?

  19 comments for “Adventures in Book Clubbing

  1. April 10, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Interesting idea about live book chats. There’s Facebook Live and Instagram has a live function too, now. The most I’ve ever done is a scheduled Twitter discussion after a read-along, which was manageable mostly because there were only two of us participating and no one’s threads got crossed.

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:03 pm

      I didn’t know Facebook and Instagram had live features. I’m not sure I’d know how to do it, but it might be fun to try.

      • April 12, 2018 at 4:51 am

        Oh yes. I think as far as Facebook Live goes, it’s just a matter of pressing a button, really – it then records live video.

  2. April 10, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    I’m in a similar situation! I’ve been wanting to try a book club and finally jumped into one at my library for parents of small kids. The kids play while you talk about the book. It was fine, but there was just the librarian and one other person. I think I’ll go a few more times. Hopefully, there will be some more people!

    I hope you’ll tell us about what you decide and your ongoing book club experiences. 🙂

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:05 pm

      Maybe if you tell a lot of people about it you’ll get more turnout. That’s a great idea to have one where the kids can be entertained while you talk. I hope it works out!

  3. April 10, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    I’d love to be part of a bookclub too, but all the Meetup ones I like are far from me. There aren’t many in my area and the few that are don’t read stuff I’m interested in, unfortunately.
    I prefer in-person interaction because it leads to a stronger connection, I think, and for me it’s much easier and quicker to do discussions.
    Good luck with finding a suitable club!

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      I’m surprised there aren’t more in your area, I found a lot of them in Northern Virginia. I think the library/bookstore is a good alternative.

      • April 12, 2018 at 11:33 pm

        Yea, all the ones I like (fantasy-based) are in northern VA

  4. April 11, 2018 at 5:33 am

    A highlight of joining a book club for me was going together to literature festivals and meeting our favourite authors. I highly recommend it!

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Book festivals are a really good idea and I’ve seen some of that on Meetup. One group is even going to a feminist science fiction conference in Wisconsin this summer. In the DC area we have a lot of book events, so I’ll have to look for those.

  5. April 11, 2018 at 7:08 am

    I was in a book club for a while, which I really enjoyed and which I miss – a mixture of people I knew and strangers, but organised by a friend of mine. It fell apart because so many people moved away. There was almost too much socialising and not enough focus on the books for my preference, which sounds like the opposite of your problem!

    I’ve been thinking about joining another one, but the local bookshop only reads science fiction (which is fine) and horror (which is definitely not). I have enough bookish friends that I could probably start one of my own, so that is a possibility that I hadn’t considered before.

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      I helped run a more social book club years ago, and I miss it, but like you, a lot of friends moved away. I really want a mix of social and book discussion, it seems hard to get a balance of the two. Maybe you have some other bookstores or libraries with book clubs, I hope you find something you like!

  6. April 13, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve never been in a local book club and it was interesting to hear about your experiences. My local JASNA group meets in a library meeting room and that seems to work really well–I think a book club meeting in a restaurant would be challenging. Good luck in finding a group that works for you.

    • April 13, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      I had to google JASNA, that’s the Jane Austen Society? That sounds like fun! I live near a really nice library so I’m trying to find out more what they have. The restaurant approach is costly, but more importantly it’s noisy and the ordering really detracts from talking to people.

  7. April 15, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    I’m in a book club I joined through meetup and unlike a lot of other meetup groups, it works for me because there is a core group of people that come back every month. I’m not the most outgoing, so seeing people every month is definitely important for my ability to make friends through my book club 🙂

  8. April 15, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    Good luck! I’ve found I’ve had the best luck joining online book clubs for now. I don’t like the books that the library picks for book clubs, and another library had an awesome club but they don’t seem to be doing it anymore. I had a group I met last year and it was fun but after picking books for the next three months (back in November), there’s been no talk of getting together again. I find real life book clubs to be so unreliable that I think I’ll just go with online ones for now until I can find a great one in real life!

  9. May 14, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I never thought of looking on Meetup for book clubs. I think I’d rather stick to online groups, just because I’m already so busy. Goodreads has a lot of online book clubs, if you’re looking for something like that.

  10. sagenerd
    September 28, 2018 at 6:14 am

    A thought on what your husband was saying about gamers having live chats is the lifestyle difference of someone who heavily reads and ones that heavily game.
    Readers are pretty used to the idea of reading words and other people’s words. Maybe you could have music on in the background or pause here and there, but it’s pretty hard to multitask while reading. It requires a certain amount of headspace for most people.
    gaming is active and visceral in a way where a person can be trained to kind of be doing it while other things are going on. Avid gamers can have conversations, slay a dragon and get up to check the laundry and check the mail real quick and still be on the live chat the whole time. Not to mention things like watching people play games on a live stream with a chat box and stuff like that.
    It seems to me, looking at it this way, that readers naturally gravitate to this sort of medium of book blogs. Video gamers are less inclined to read things longer than a few twitter posts.

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