Book Clubs During the Pandemic – Stronger Than Ever

The media often portrays book clubs as more interested in gossip and wine than books, but actually, they're much more dedicated to reading and discussing than some would have you believe. I know because in our 20 year quest to provide exceptional reading recommendations to book clubs and inquiring readers, BookBrowse has surveyed more than 25,000 book club members, so I have seen firsthand that most are strong communities, passionate about books, vigorous in debate and learning.

Book Clubs in Lockdown - cover What I didn't know is how they've been coping in 2020. So, over a period of two weeks in October, BookBrowse asked book club members to share their experiences with us--and over 3,400 answered. We compiled their responses into a recently published report, "Book Clubs in Lockdown," available for free at bookbrowse.com/wp/lockdown

The good news is that most book groups have risen to the challenges of 2020, learning new skills and reinforcing old friendships. Overall, three-quarters of respondents say their book club is currently meeting, but most are doing so in a different way to last year. Two thirds are now meeting virtually (almost all on Zoom) and half of the remainder are meeting outside, albeit with an eye on the weather as it turns colder. The great majority look forward to meeting in person again in the future, but many have discovered benefits in meeting virtually, in particular being able to reconnect with members who had moved away or who live in a different place for part of the year. In fact, a third of those meeting virtually expect their book club will continue to have a virtual element, so that sick or traveling members can participate and sometimes so the whole group can meet online, for example if weather conditions are not conducive to going out.

It is heartening to hear from so many how their group has worked together to learn new skills, and help those less technically inclined. Indeed, the pandemic has been the catalyst for many to embrace technologies that they had previously avoided, such as downloading ebooks and getting to grips with video chat.

Access to print books has been a challenge with library buildings closed for a large chunk of the year. Book clubs have responded in different ways; some have been experimenting with different discussion formats (such as each picking a book in a specific genre from their own shelf) and others have explored their library's ebook collections for the first time; and about one in five have been purchasing more books than they would normally do.

Current events have also changed conversations, and influenced book choices. Well over half of US book clubs that are currently meeting have discussed racial issues in 2020, and in groups that choose their books six months or less ahead, 28% have read at least one book related to racial justice. Politics has been a challenge for many US book clubs: 27% of US respondents in groups that are currently meeting say that their group has agreed not to discuss politics, (up from 11% in 2018). By comparison, just 3% of non-US respondents say their book club has a similar rule--and some of those specify that they have agreed not to discuss American politics!

topics discussed, and not discussed, in book clubs in 2020

Sadly, a quarter of respondents are in book clubs that are not currently meeting; and they miss their groups, with 90% saying their book club is important to them. There are multiple reasons that groups are not meeting but for many it comes down to the lack of a location to gather in – for example, some would normally meet in a public space such as a library, but few libraries are allowing groups to meet on the premises. Many groups have pivoted to virtual meetings but the logistics can be challenging, particularly in the many communities that lack access to broadband internet.



Looked at as a whole, the resilience of book clubs shines through. It's been a tough year, but the majority have persevered and found a way forward. A silver lining for many is that they have gained a greater appreciation for the friendship, community and support that their book club provides, with half saying that their group is even more important to them than it was last year.

Davina, BookBrowse Publisher



The findings in this article are drawn from our published research: The Inner Lives of Book Clubs and/or Book Clubs in Lockdown. More about both at bookbrowse.com/wp.

You can see more articles in The Inner Lives of Book Clubs section of this blog; and receive future articles in your mailbox by subscribing to our newsletters, in particular Book Club News or Librarian News.

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Book Clubs in Lockdown - Free Research Report


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