About five years ago, some friends and I tried to start a long-distance book club. We had big dreams of a shared blog where we would chime in with thoughts about the highbrow literature we were reading. We only made it two books in and the blog never got any further than a free domain and a few quotes on books. Last year, the same friends and I decided to give it another go. I’m so happy to report that it’s working! We’ve almost made it to our first anniversary, which fills me with a ridiculous amount of joy. A few people have asked me how it works, so I’ve been trying to pinpoint what is making the difference this time around. Here are the three things that keep coming to mind:
We can see and hear each other. I know book clubs exist that are purely forum-based, but I’ve never managed to stay with one for very long. I want to see and hear my friends! Our original attempt fell flat partly because it was too much book and not enough chat. While we do read and discuss a book each month, we also catch up on each other’s lives (and haircuts and children). It’s those little glimpses into my friend’s lives that keep me logging in even when I’d rather just go to bed.
We have the right (number of) people. The very nature of video chat leads to some bad connections and people interrupting each other while we try to talk about the book. Without any food to eat while I wait my turn to talk, the conversation can feel more stilted than an in-person book club. Fortunately for us, our shared decades of friendship lets us be a little less concerned about being polite. Last month we had a terribly annoying echo for some reason. After our first few troubleshooting attempts failed, we just opted for short bursts of coversation followed by a long wait for the echoes to catch up. It was terrible! We laughed about it anyway.
As for the right number, we have 5 members of our internet book club so far. I think many more than that would get unruly. (Or we’d have to actually take turns talking. Ha!)
We’re flexible. We’re spread across 4 different time zones. Some of us have kids and some of us don’t. Two of our book clubbers have newborns. Our lives and days are so vastly different that we set a tenative date for the next meeting knowing full well it might need to change. We have a group message chain where we can make changes to the date or time as needed, including begging for an extension when only two of us have finished the book so far. Regularly changing dates or whose turn it is to pick the book would be chaotic in a traditional book club. In the case of our little group, it’s one of the things that’s made it work so far.
I love my little long-distance book club, but I’m sure it’s not the only way to do it. I’d love to hear anything else you’ve seen, especially since I’m trying to figure out how to connect with my neices and nephews in other states. (Now I just have to convince them that a book club with the aunt is a totally cool thing to do.)