I guess all across the country, maybe even all across the world, readers are Zooming their book clubs. There must be millions of book clubs of all different sorts – those which are very serious and earnest at one end and those which are really using books as an excuse to get together with people, to meet new friends, to make new friends, and enjoy their company as much as the company of books. There’s no right or wrong way to have a book club, you just need to find one which suits you.
I’m in two book clubs, one which started maybe fifteen years ago when eight or so people met for the first time. The idea was simple, for us all to read the same book and then discuss it – I’m not sure we followed any set pattern, at first as we got to know each other, but over the years members drifted away and now there’s just a group of six friends. I say friends because yes, that’s what we are, now we are friends who meet with the aim of talking about a book we’ve read, but also to catch up with each other and enjoy each other’s company. We have tried different things over the years – the person choosing the book to introduce it, then each giving their ideas before it’s open for a general discussion, but gradually it has begun just a general friendly free for all.
I know some book clubs are very formal with set questions and a fairly rigid structure and I’m not sure how much I would enjoy that – it sounds a bit pressured to me. Supposing I didn’t like the book and everyone else did, or supposing it was my turn to choose and I loved it and all the others thought it was terrible? I wouldn’t like to be in a situation similar to being back at school and be quizzed over my opinions. Some book clubs work from a list of titles they get from outside the group, rather than suggestions from the group… well, we just muddle along trying to remember what we have seen reviewed which sounded good, or what other people have mentioned and eventually coming up with a consensus.
The other book club started at Waterstones bookshop, again many years ago, and although the shop hosted it, the group members chose the books. At first it was a little rigid and formal although everyone was very pleasant and friendly, and it was more structured, the discussion being led by one of the bookshop staff. Over the years it changed as people became friends and began to meet outside of book club meetings. From that group an offshoot developed, a writing group, which is still going strong and is about to publish its second anthology. We still keep in touch, and try and “meet” through a social media chat room, but I think it’s only when we can return to the bookshop that we’ll really get back to reading as a group.
Meanwhile,, the first book club, the group of friends, Zoom each month, and today we were discussing a book I’ve mentioned here quite often, Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. I had recommended it and I really hoped my friends liked and enjoyed it as much as I did, and I’m very glad to say they did. We spent quite a while catching up with our news – not that of course we had much, one person was having difficulties with workmen doing some renovations for her, one person told us about one of her offspring in a foreign land, another brought us up to date with her grandchildren, and then we discussed a previous book before moving on to Kindred. Normally when we meet in each other’s houses it’s the evening, wine flowers, there are snacky nibbles and nibbly snacks and there’s a lot of laughter and hilarity. When you’re with people in real life there are so many visual clues about who wants to say something that there might be a lot of noisy chat but we mostly take it in turns. Expressions are clearer, there’s gesture and movement and other non-verbal signals – watching friends on a screen just isn’t the same. It’s a lot of fun, and lovely to keep in touch, but it’s not the same.
As we headed towards the end of our allotted time we began to decide what we would read next time, and when we would “meet” and then it occurred to us that maybe we could meet outdoors for real, socially distanced of course, but within actual sight of each other. Events might interfere, and if they do we will zoom, but all being well, with every finger crossed, maybe we can meet in reality next time!