Oprah has one. So do Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lena Dunham.
You can have one too. Only yours can be so much better than theirs. It’s a virtual book club, a digital version of the age-old tradition of gathering in groups to celebrate one of life’s great solo experiences–reading.
When you are familiar to millions of people, like Oprah or Lena are, your book club becomes more of a reading list, or at best a static exchange of written or recorded opinions, reactions, and recommendations. There are just too many people.
To get a real debate going in an online, virtual environment you need a more intimate group, and real life real-time communication from a live video call. With video calling, you can turn a remote reading club into a real social experience, and you don’t even have to get out of your favorite reading armchair by the window to do it. Read on for some virtual book club ideas that make good use of tech that’s already out there.
Online Book Clubs Already Exist
Search #bookclub on Twitter and you’ll be presented with hundreds upon hundreds of tweets without having to scroll back past mid-July (yes, there were so many I gave up waiting on the constant screen refreshers once I hit mid-July). Online book clubs, digital book clubs, virtual book clubs–call them what you will, they are a permanent fixture of social media even though books first went to print about 550 years before the Kindle arrived.
Most of the clubs that feature big names like Oprah are just reading lists, although the search functions of Facebook, Twitter, and Google make it easy to find some clubs that are built around niche themes such as historical fiction, dystopian sci-fi, or even French crime thrillers.
Then there are online clubs that go a little further to provide extra reader stimulation. Emma Watson attracted attention to her club, Our Shared Shelf, by hiding copies of Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom around the London Underground. Other virtual book clubs, such as Bustle or Between Two Books include live streamed interviews with authors, and have apps to help book club members get together online.
While those are great ways to meet fellow readers, you can think of them as mere jumping off points toward creating your own, more social, book club.
Necessary Tech for a Virtual Book Club
The technical side of building your own virtual book club is just as easy as making a video call. You’ll need a webcam. You’ll need Skype. That’s it. You could get away with using the built-in camera in your phone or laptop if you really wanted to go bare bones, but in our opinion you get a much better experience with a standalone device, and they’re really pretty cheap nowadays.
With those basic tools, you can stage a group call among a dozen fellow readers for free. You just have to exchange Skype details and be online in your armchair when your virtual host puts in a video call. You can expand your numbers by using an app that allows group video calls like Facebook Messenger, and you can help the conversation flow more naturally by using a platform with an active speaker tracker, like the one Google Hangouts currently features, that automatically gives whoever has the floor the biggest chat window in your group call.
Like I said, however, those are just the basics.
Virtual Book Club Ideas That Call on Technology
It’s easy enough to use video calling to create a book club where people can gather from anywhere in the country (or world!) to talk about the latest chapter in All the Light We Cannot See, but there are other ways to connect over a good book. Here are a few unusual ideas for your virtual club:
Write notes in a shared book: You’ll all need access to a website that lets you download an entire book–here’s War and Peace from gutenburg.org–and the patience to read on screen, but you can drop text into Google Docs, which lets each person in the club make real-time notes as they read. Or you can wait for a digital writers’ festival to set it up for you.
Meet anonymously: You don’t have to meet face-to-face if you find that a little intimidating. There are virtual reality video calling apps that let you speak in real time while using an avatar. You could theme the occasion by creating a video chat room filled with Vikings, aliens, or Dickensian chimney sweeps.
Watch author interviews together: Discuss the discussion! Apps like ooVoo, Airtime’s video chat social media app, and Rabb.it’s WebRTC-based video sharing platform let you stream media content within a shared video chat room–while you talk face-to-face. Just like watching TV together in a living room, these apps allow live conversation to go on around a video. You could watch an author interview together, a TED talk, scenes from a movie based on the book, or anything else you can think of.
Host an expert: It’s not just authors who have something to say about the books they write. Invite a professor, a historian, a librarian, or even a performer to speak to your group. All they need is a few minutes of free time and a webcam of their own–no travel necessary.
Meet on location: You’re limited only by your wifi coverage, so each member of the group can sit seaside, poolside, or by whatever nearby park can pass as a grand English garden to add the right ambiance to the discussion.
The options are endless when it comes to adding high-tech touches to your book club meetings. When the only necessities are a smartphone (or a computer with a webcam) and a dog-eared copy of Life of Pi, there’s no end of ways to add a creative social element to every novel you once tackled alone.