Book Clubs and the Pandemic: The Good and the Not So Good

book club meetings during the pandemic - the good and the not so goodAs we've been discussing in recent posts, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have required book clubs to change course and do things differently. From the responses to our October 2020 survey, "Book Clubs in Lockdown," the most frequently reported change has been a switch from in-person meetings to virtual. In total, two-thirds of book clubs that were meeting at the time of the survey were doing so virtually, and of these all but a few percent were using Zoom.

We'll be looking more closely at how those virtual meetings work and what book clubs have to say about them in a future article. Here we look at some of the good and not so good aspects of the book club experience during the pandemic, irrespective of whether groups are meeting virtually or in person.


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Book Clubs During the Pandemic: Fostering Connections

How is your book club doing these days? If you're like most of the respondents to our October 2020 survey, your group has gone through some changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you're meeting on Zoom or gathering in person with social distancing and masking protocols, your book club meetings probably don't look quite like they used to. But not all change is bad! As we discovered in our research, satisfaction among book club participants is still high, despite the curveballs this pandemic has thrown us.

We surveyed more than 3,000 people who described themselves as currently in a book club. Of these, three-quarters were still meeting regularly with their book group, either virtually or in person; the remaining quarter mostly had not met since the start of the pandemic. The rest of this blog focuses on those who had been meeting regularly during 2020.

A full two-thirds of book clubs were meeting virtually at the time of the survey, almost all on Zoom; a further 17% were meeting outdoors; and the remainder were mostly meeting in someone's home or in a communal space (with all but 3% taking precautions). More about meeting locations in our earlier post, "Book Clubs During COVID: When Will We Meet Again?"

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The Pandemic and Politics: Changes in Book Club Reading Habits

We've discussed how book clubs have changed the way they source books during the COVID-19 pandemic, but what kinds of books are they reading? For our "Book Clubs in Lockdown" survey (published in November) we asked respondents about their reading habits during the pandemic -- from how much time they're devoting to reading to what kinds of books have been on the agenda. The responses are illuminating.

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How Book Clubs Find Books During the Pandemic

book shelfContinuing our series of articles based on our November 2020 "Book Clubs in Lockdown" research, we now turn our focus to one of the biggest challenges book clubs faced – and are still facing: how to source books!

Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, over 84% of US book clubs we surveyed included at least one member who relied on borrowing print books from their library. With many public libraries operating under challenging conditions, it's unsurprising that many book groups have had problems getting copies of the books they want to read.

Despite these difficulties, it's important to note that survey respondents express considerable appreciation for their local libraries--and the near-heroic efforts of librarians keeping things up and running:

Wait lines are longer, and turnaround times are longer too. No complaints, though – we have a wonderful library system and we are grateful for the wonderful job they are doing.

Our libraries are open for book borrowing, not for browsing the shelves or being inside. Bless the libraries.

We can request a hold on a book. When it is at the chosen branch, you choose an appointment time M/W/F, and pick it up. All non-contact. I think the library has done a great job figuring this out.

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Books in Translation for Book Clubs

Introducing translated literature into your book club is a great way to expand the scope of what you read and discuss. Translated books make up a relatively small percentage of all books published in English, but within that small percentage lie vast opportunities to engage with unique artistic perspectives. Below is a selection of recent translations for your book group to enjoy.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a feminist novel that makes a statement via its everywoman protagonist. It Would Be Night In Caracas and When the Plums Are Ripe show political events through the eyes of their distinct main characters. No Presents Please and The Black Cathedral are multi-faceted reads that explore individuality and community while offering viewpoints from a wide range of characters.

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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.

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Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle
Book Clubs in Lockdown - Free Research Report