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Novel connections: How to set up your own online book group

20 March 2020

When we can't meet in person, a relaxed video chat is time well spent. Have you considered starting a book group, but never got round to it? Now might be the perfect time. Connecting with each other through a great novel could be the perfect balm for the soul in these troubled times.

Pick a place to meet

With social distancing and self-isolation becoming a part of all our lives, an alternative to meeting up in someone's living room is necessary.

On the plus side, this widens your potential invitation list - a friend in another town is just as able to join an online group as your next-door neighbour.

Book Riot's online bookclub guide runs through some of the options - they argue that a service like Google Hangouts is good for replicating the live group experience. (Other video chat applications are of course available - CNET's recent guide selects seven of their favourites).

But Book Riot also makes the point that things don't have to run quite the same way as IRL, for example starting a private group on Facebook or goodreads. This approach allows people to more easily read and comment (use spoiler warnings, obviously!) at their own pace rather than to a pre-arranged deadline of a meet-up time.

Choose a book

Now that your group is set up, it's time to pick a book to read. There are many different kinds of books out there, so it's probably a good idea to narrow it down before you start canvassing for suggestions.

If you have no idea where to start, our expert panel picked 100 novels that shaped their worlds, which we've handily divided into 10 categories. It's a diverse selection of choices - from Harry Potter to Half of a Yellow Sun, from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Brave New World.

Sourcing books

Unless everyone you know has a well-stocked library, some people will need to get hold of a copy of the book that the group is going to tackle.

Getting hold of physical copies of books will be a challenge for many of us at the moment, but luckily many titles are now available digitally. You may even have a dedicated e-reading device already but, even if you don’t, book reading apps can also be used on smart phones, tablets and computers.

While public libraries aren’t going to be available to visit in person, membership of your library can also give you access to e-books to enjoy own home. You should be able to find more information on your local council's library website. If you're unsure where that is try one of these li nks:

Questions, questions, questions

OK, so now you have the logistics sorted. But what should you actually be talking about?

Well, there's no right or wrong way to talk about a book.

Our friends at Radio 4 advise that, for a more formal group, a prepared list of questions about the book will keep the discussion moving forward. You can devise this list yourself or take advantage of some of the resources online. For example, Lit Lovers has questions on 3500 different books.

You might prefer to to keep things simpler. Try one person simply starting and giving their opinion, and then seeing where the conversation goes from there.

Also, don't be afraid to experiment and try out new things related to the book (and having a bit of fun at a tense time for the world). How about making memes based on the book as a way to engage with plot, theme and characterisation?

Culture In Quarantine

Brilliant conversations about books on the BBC