20161229_161402_20170101193615688If you are a Harry Potter fan, you may be aware that J. K. Rowling herself is launching an online Harry Potter Book Club this June. It’s in part to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the first book.

According to the press kit for this online book club, it will “create a global community of Harry Potter readers who are communicating with each other as they are reading the same book, at the same time.”

The Problem with Traditional Book Clubs

As I am new to the Harry Potter world and have only just started the third book, the prospect of an online book club intrigues me. I’ve heard of them before. But, I never thought about participating. I like to talk about my books.

But then I thought – why am I limiting myself? It’s not as though I can only be in one type of book club or the other. Traditional book clubs meet infrequently. My book club struggles to meet once a month. What about all that book time in-between?

Plus, I can see the benefits of on online book club, particularly for people who struggle to find a book club that fits their personality and reading tastes. It can be hard.

Are Online Book Clubs the Solution?

Enter online book clubs, maybe?

I decided to figure out if an online book club might be for me. So I went searching to find out what kind of online book clubs are out there now and what are the benefits and drawbacks of an online book club.

Here’s what I discovered.

The Wide, Wide World of Online Book Clubs

Online book clubs can take many forms. There’s no shortage of options or mediums. Let’s take a look at a few types.

Social Media + Celebrities = Book Club

book club online

Go figure, celebrities like books? They’re people too? When did this happen? Well, it’s true. Celebrities like books and many have created (intentionally and unintentionally) online book clubs where their fans can discuss, yep, books!

Here are some examples.

Reese Witherspoon’s RWbookclub Instagram account is a great example of an impromptu book club. Witherspoon started posting pictures of the books she was reading online and this grew into an Instagram account where people reply with their thoughts about the books.

Oprah Winfrey, whose original incarnation of a book club was a smashing success, skyrocketing some books from near obscurity into the stratosphere. It got to the point where I didn’t want to even read an Oprah Book Club book. It became too mainstream. (I love Oprah but it’s kind of like a book becoming the literary equivalent of pop music when you’re an alt music kind of girl.) But, I am probably in the minority here and most people love to buy Oprah Book Club books. I guess a natural progression then was Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 on Goodreads where a “currently reading” book is posted and there are multiple discussion threads where people can offer opinions and chime in.

shared shelfOf course, my favorite of these celebrity online book clubs is Our Shared Shelf, started by Emma Watson, who is just amazing. It’s a feminist-inspired online book club that chooses books that have women’s issues at their core. Emma herself posts a preview of the book and then the comments. Once you get past all the gushing about how great Emma is (total deserved gushing), there are numerous interesting threads on different topic areas related to the book. This month’s book, appropriately, The Handmaid’s Tale.emma watson

Even Florence from the group Florence and the Machine has a book club. It’s on Facebook. You really can find anything to suit your tastes online!

Social Media + Fangirls = book club

I recently read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. That might be why The Tumblr Reblog Book Club, which began in 2013 with Fangirl, seems appealing. Books are chosen every few months and a schedule is posted for the online discussions. Using Tumblr, readers can comment with written reviews, gifs, videos, poetry, essentially any way they would like using the hashtag #reblogbookclub or submit posts to the blog itself.

Social Media + Book sites = book club

Not surprisingly, sites that have a lot of book-related content have online book club options. Take Bustle for example. Similar to Oprah’s Book Club, they use Goodreads and focus on “nostalgic books that are meaningful to us.” This month’s pick is “The Witches” by Roald Dahl.

How to Find an Online Book Club

Clearly, based on the above, the answer is Celebrities and Goodreads. 🙂 Honestly, with a few clicks of your computer, you could find book clubs. There are so many. The above are only a small sample. In fact, the problem won’t be finding a book club that fits your personality and reading style. The problem will be trying to fit them all in.

If you’re ready to take the online book club plunge, here are some places to start.

Goodreads is a great option as there are numerous groups that read and discuss books you can find and join. They are often very specific to certain genres. There are even indie book groups that read and comment on each other’s work. Goodreads is wonderful place for readers and writers. Just search “bookclub groups” and you’ll get a huge list of options.

Social Media like Facebook, twitter and Instagram are great places to find potential online book clubs to fit your style.

Blogs are another way to get into the online book club scene. Simply search for book club blogs and then get ready spend hours reading through everything. Make sure you’re ready for the time commitment, especially if you’re someone like me who is easily pulled into what my sister likes to term “rabbit holes.”

What’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Online Book Clubs

The Good

It’s easier to find a club to suit your needs: Online book clubs have a virtual paper trail. You can find out the books, if there is a theme or genre specific to that book club and read the comments to find out if the people who participate are interesting to you. It lets you make a researched, informed decision about your book club.

It opens up discussion beyond just the spoken word: Discussions can take many forms and formats. If the discussion takes place on a blog site, it could include images. This widens the options for how people can express their ideas about books to a larger audience and allows for more variety of creativity of expression.

It’s easy to schedule: One of the drawbacks of a traditional book club is finding a time when everyone can meet. With most online book clubs that’s not an issue, you read and comment in your own time (asynchronously, as my husband would say). Usually there is a certain time frame of days, weeks or months when people comment about a certain book. But you’re not beholden to a specific two to three hour timeframe in a specific location.

You can easily ignore opinions (note you’ll see this in drawbacks too): Sometimes, in traditional book clubs, people might say something stupid or flat out offensive and you’ll find yourself needing to say something or sit there uncomfortably. (Side note: this does not happen in my amazing book club but I could imagine it might.) No need to deal with that online book clubs. As I said above you can pre-evaluate the book club to see the type of people who comment and what kind of comments they make to see if it fits your personality. And even if someone does make a comment that you find offensive or upsetting, it’s pretty easy to scroll right by it. No validation is sometimes the best rebuke.

It has the benefits of the written word: Considering a book is all about the written word, in some ways it seems fitting that most online book clubs use the written word for discussion. And for some people (like me) it’s a lot easier to express yourself in the written word.

The Bad

Less Creativity of Thought: Your opinions are documented, out there, never to be taken back in the world. In my opinion that means some people do and should give more thought to what they write. This detracts a bit from the concept of a book club as a workshop concept where sometimes you can work through half-formed ideas with others.

Limited Verbal Interactions: There’s no real verbal banter and written banter

You can easily ignore opinions: This isn’t always a good thing. Part of being in a good book club is being challenged and learning from others. If you can easily ignore or dismiss an idea or opinion that challenges your own, that’s not really getting to the heart of the purpose of a book club.

Loss of linearity: If you’re familiar with how online discussion groups and threads work, they jump around a lot. People respond to earlier comments and this is followed by a new comment. It can feel a little disjointed if you’re trying to read through and catch up. Sometimes, if you’re late to a thread you can have what I call “thread fatigue” where you’ve spent so much time trying to follow the comments and responses you don’t have the energy to comment anymore.

The Verdict

I’m definitely going to give an online book club a try. I think it’s a really interesting way to branch out more into the book community and get more opinions and ideas on books!