‘We read to know we’re not alone,’ wrote William Nicholson. The simple act of reading connects us to others – to the author, to the characters or people depicted, but also to all the other people who will read this book. Still, those other readers are distant, mere suggestions of like-minded folk. We can’t know what they thought of the book, whether that bit made them sigh dreamily and this bit made them laugh; whether the book inspired them or challenged them; whether they would recommend the book to others and, indeed, have recommendations of books we would in turn enjoy.
Actually, we can know all of this; we can be part of a reading community that is wide and diverse and so very well-read. All we need to do is join a book club.
In normal times, book clubs can be wonderful meetups in homes or cafes or libraries or bookstores where you can make friends and discuss books and discover new treasures.
But even when such meetings are possible, many readers prefer a quieter kind of book club. A club that’s perfect for introverts and thinkers; a club that fits around your life; a club in which you can dip in and out as you prefer: an online book club.
You need only look at Goodreads, the social website devoted to reading that was launched back in 2006, to see how popular online reading communities can be: it has 90 million users, who use the site to catalogue their reading, to find book recommendations and – importantly – to connect with other readers through forums and groups.
In recent years, all manner of online book clubs have sprung up. Celebrities like Oprah, Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson have attracted millions of readers to their clubs. This month it was announced that the Duchess of Cornwall is launching a Reading Room book club which aims to be ‘a celebration of literature in all its forms’ and ‘a community space for book lovers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds’ (source: The Bookseller).
Equally, though, if you prefer a more intimate club or one with a specialist focus, such as romance novels or history books, there are all kinds of clubs to explore online set up by passionate readers. Indeed, passion, it strikes me, is the only prerequisite for launching a club, and so if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, why not set up your own? Even if your club has only a couple of members, perhaps friends or colleagues, the connections you make, the feeling of community, can make a big difference in combatting loneliness.
Will 2021 be the year of the book club for you?