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Gather Your Friends: A guide to virtual book clubs


Books are solitary companions. Great books draw people together. 

Let’s face it: finding schedule balance is tough, even as the world opens up a bit. When we can’t meet in person, we can still gather with friends – or make new friends – by hosting or joining a virtual book club. 

Tory Sherrill, a Library Assistant at the Greenville County Library System’s Pelham Road Branch location, is an experienced book club host, including heading several virtual book clubs since in-person options were put on hold.

“Getting a book club started, whether in person or virtual, is the first hurdle,” she said. “I’ve found that word of mouth is the best way.”

Friends invite friends and the group can grow organically. 

The next step is choosing a book. 

“The virtual book club at the library is BYOB (bring your own book),” Sherrill said. “We’ve found that us easier to commit to at a time when people are stressed out. It’s less pressure.”

In a BYOB club, readers can talk about any recent choice or maybe their favorite book. 

“You leave with a bunch of new options that have been talked up by people who really enjoyed them,” Sherrill said. 

Clubs can read fiction, nonfiction or a bit of both. Many clubs choose a specific book to read and then come together to discuss. In that case, the leader can choose a book or members can take turns choosing the title. The latter can reduce the pressure on one person to choose and expand the array of books the club features.

Whether the club meets in person or online, Sherrill said bigger is not necessarily an advantage.

“I find that smaller groups are better – five or six is the ideal gathering,” she said. “People find they can share more intimately.”

Zoom and other online meeting tools lend themselves well to book clubs. Sherrill said it is a good idea to have everyone’s video on and to use the gallery view option so members can see each other, just as if they were gathered in a room. 

“I’ve found that keeping your sound on makes for more organic conversations,” Sherrill said. “You can add a comment there or there that you wouldn’t have otherwise if you were muted.”

For those getting to know each other through book club, icebreakers can serve as good conversation starters. Sherrill recommends doing an online search for literary icebreakers for some good ideas. Publishers often post discussion questions online as well. 

Once groups feel comfortable meeting in person, Sherrill said a comfortable setting such as a coffee shop or on benches at a park can make a difference in attendance and help clubs be sustainable. 

The Greenville County Library System provides many resources, including book clubs and tools for finding your next favorite book:

Try a themed reading list at greenvillelibrary.org/reading-lists-for-adults.

Get help from a librarian. Use the library’s Next Five Faves to answer a few questions and get a personalized selection of titles sent to you by email greenvillelibrary.org/next-five-faves.

Looking for more ideas? Try the books and reading resources available at greenvillelibrary.org/books-and-reading.