This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.
Even after the advent of Facebook, email and Skype, sometimes it seems to me that my “book” friends are far more present and dependable than actual friends that exist off the page. Beloved literary characters are always there, dependably themselves, and if they’re experiencing a crisis, I can read ahead, and it abates or is otherwise resolved, and there they are again, brightening my day with witty remarks or inspiring adventures.
As for my “real” friends, well, it’s complicated. All of us have hectic lives. Our interests and passions, our problems and experiences, these things are constantly changing, and changing us. So it can be hard to connect, especially with friends (like so many of mine) who live somewhere far, far away both in terms of physical distance and cultural tendencies. And new friendships are an even more fragile, high-maintenance thing.
Benefits: Reading with Friends
Books can be a great unifier. When you read a book with friends or family, suddenly you’re all experiencing the same things at once. While everyone responds a little differently, sharing the same plot and characters gives long-lost and newfound friends a chance to connect and talk about something new. Your single friend may be sick of seeing pictures of your toddler smeared in creamed peas, and you in turn may be tired of hearing about one-night, mojito-fueled escapades, but in any given story, chances are you can find some common ground to enjoy for an hour or so.
Besides, even when a certain passage or character gets mixed reviews, you can have a heated debate, hopefully without anyone becoming offended, because in the end, it’s not personal, the things happening to the protagonist are not happening to you. So when your mom or favorite aunt passes judgment in a way you find annoying or harsh, you can relax, because she’s not passing it on you and your life.
Reading books together is also a great way to cement a new friendship. As adults, new friendships outside work can be difficult to build because we’re all so busy, and young relationships of any type need time and effort to develop. Joining a book club with a new friend can really jumpstart your relationship. Here is a chance to meet regularly, and talk about life on a less intimate level, to laugh and cry together over the experiences everyone is sharing safely, vicariously, via words on page.
Defining a Virtual Book Club
For some readers circling up for traditional book club meetings is as simple as dragging a few friends or family members to a coffee shop or library every Thursday evening, or luring them into your living room with promises of cupcakes and lively conversation on Saturday afternoons. But for readers like myself whose network of loved ones are far-flung (across multiple continents) to say the least, a virtual book club may be the best answer.
So what’s a virtual book club, anyway? Like a traditional book club, a virtual book club is a group of people that agree to read a book during a set time period members have agreed on, and then meet at agreed upon intervals to discuss the book. Unlike with traditional book clubs, this meeting is not in person. The meeting can be via online chat, blog posts, or even emailing back and forth about the book. What matters is that people read the books, and then talk about it.
Setting Up a Virtual Book Club
Setting up your own virtual book club is fairly simple, at least if you have friends who read. The most common problem for many would-be-book-clubbers seems to be agreeing on a book. Finding a book that is appetizing to everyone can be tricky, although today’s genre-crossing tomes make your job much easier than in the past. If all else fails, why not read a classic, or a bestseller that everyone is talking about. That way, even when readers don’t particularly prefer the book, reading it will serve them later for intelligent small-talk at parties and work gatherings.
Another quandary for groups of friends that want to read together is agreeing on reading deadlines, meeting times and a method of commenting that everyone is comfortable with. Add different time zones to that mix, and some serious discussion may be required. But you do have the serious advantage of people being able to attend meeting from anywhere with an internet connection.
After your group has agreed upon a book and a meeting time you’ll be responsible for reading and reacting, but more importantly, really listening to and respecting your friends. What books or characters do they feel most strongly about? What are their questions or strong opinions? How your friends and family respond to books is a great insight into who they are and will also help the group decide what to read next and will greatly improve everyone’s experience.
A Few (Free) Virtual Book Club Tools
Shelfari: On Amazon’s Shelfari.com, you can set up a private group for invitees only and read and comment in the group. To keep the comments from being public knowledge change all the preferences to “only members of this group” At the start or finish of each book or segment of a book, open a new discussion window for questions and comments. On the bookshelf it’s easy to keep track of which books the group has read and what they’re reading now.
WordPress: Another option is creating a wordpress.com blog for your book club. To make it private, go to privacy on the setting menu and select that you’d like the site to be private. Then invite the book club members to be authors (publish and edit their own posts) or contributors (submit posts for administrator approval) and post about the book as the group reads it
Skype: One of my personal favorite, and an awesome alternative to ridiculous phone bills is scheduling a time do a Skype chat to discuss the book. Set up a public chat titled your book, or book club and then add book club members’ Skype usernames to the chat. Discuss the book.
Do you belong to a book club, virtual or otherwise?
Do you think book clubs are a good way to connect with friends and family members?
Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.