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The future is virtual: a closer look at online book clubs

Book clubs: a place for avid readers to gather together and discuss interesting literature. During the current uncertain times we are in, virtual book clubs seem like the perfect solution to lockdown boredom. As the Covid-19 crisis continues, so does the discussion on the merits of virtual and offline book clubs. From the words ‘book club,’ most will picture a secret room full of middle-aged adults huddled with their reading for the month. But is this concept of book clubs changing in the present day?

There are hundreds of online e-books piling up in downloads folders and an ever-growing number of online reviews for books. Technology has proven to be a staple part of the book industry. However, people are now ushering in a new age of the classic book club through the Internet. Virtual book clubs are thriving. The creators behind these platforms are invested in creating a variety of niche spaces for readers and for the average person to crack open a good book.

There’s a book club for almost anything you could think of. The Boar even has its own club on Twitter, so there are many avenues for readers to share their thoughts on weekly chosen books. Social media is a form of modern connectivity that has become a mainstay within literary culture. In a world of podcasts, Goodreads reviews, read-a-thons, and many Twitter threads, online book clubs seem to be here to stay.

The virtual element doesn’t hinder insightful conversations on illuminating reads

So are they as useful as traditional ones? My answer is simply, yes. These platforms create a space for individuals to join with as little or as many flipped-through novels under their belt as they like. Each group has a particular demographic and only seem to promote readers to discuss their thoughts in safe, inclusive spaces. They allow for healthy discussions and debates. 

But, is this the same as the cosy atmosphere of reading together as a group in someone’s living room? The worry among some people is that these platforms encourage more one-sided reviews than discussions. The hosts, operating through a podcast format for example, have already read through the book and formed their own takes on it. This all takes place before anyone can bring opinions into their comments section. 

However, one podcast that I think has overcome this barrier is the Banging Book Club. Started by Hannah Witton, Leena Norms and Lucy Moon, in 2016. This podcast focuses on reading books through the lens of sex and gender, covering stories from feminist literature to thought-provoking biographies. They give a very interesting take on classics such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. This podcast book club is incredibly entertaining and full of witty humour. 

Another favourite book club of mine is Papercut. It also consists of YouTubers: Paperbackdreams, Jordan Harvey and ReadwithCindy. By being active on their social medias, their individual YouTube channels and the podcast itself, they are able to interact with the readers before the episodes come out. The personal relationships through the hosts’ social media create a space similar to the format we all know and love. The virtual element doesn’t hinder insightful conversations on illuminating reads. 

Readers can easily be a part of multiple book clubs online without too much commitment

The important thing about online book clubs is their ability to allow readers to interact with each other. However, anonymity on the internet is an inevitable factor. An issue that all virtual book clubs must contend with is hate. For many online communities this could be their downfall.

Allowing for anonymity can have positives – it may mean people open up more about topics that they aren’t comfortable talking about face-to-face. Through the Twitter timeline many people start to discuss popular books with their friends. With the rise of social media these platforms and communities have grown internationally, including conversations on harsh social issues of global importance.

Since these virtual book clubs are growing followers and new readers at a rapid rate, large publishing companies such as Penguin are also dipping their toe into the realm of book clubs. Many are encouraging readers to start their own. In the digital age, these networks help promote niche and popular books of all genres. Readers can easily be a part of multiple book clubs online without too much commitment. 

Overall, online book clubs through social media sites are incredibly useful in finding new reads, and allow us to remain part of many clubs all at once from the comfort of our bedrooms.

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