Book clubs really are the best, aren’t they?
People with a common interest—reading—coming together to talk about books, ideas, and issues. Also, possibly to drink some wine, eat some cheese and catch up with some friends. It sounds like heaven to me (I always especially enjoy the cheese part).
Earlier this year I boldly started up a new book club, aiming to meet every second month with some friends who live nearby, but we only managed to meet once before the coronavirus shutdown happened. We read The Weekend, by Charlotte Wood, which we all enjoyed.
Yesterday, though, I was invited to speak at someone else’s book club, and it was an absolute delight. Shoutout to Bayside Library, in Melbourne’s southeast, and the participants in the inaugural Zoom meeting of the group.
The group was facilitated by a fabulous librarian* and we spent a very happy hour talking about Elizabeth Macarthur, historical bias, research and the parochial way each Australian state views history. NSW, for example, tends to focus on its early, Georgian history while in Victoria the emphasis is on the gold rush.
The Bayside Library book club was necessarily quite focussed. Online meetings don’t lend themselves to chit chat and we only had a limited time. My preference, though, is for book clubs to be quite informal. Chat about the selected book, by all means, but let’s also talk about other books, and about other things, and about life in general. For me, I guess, it’s really just a nice excuse to regularly catch up with people whose company I enjoy.
Interestingly—and in my experience unusually—the Bayside Library group was also keen to talk about the craft of writing.
They asked me terrific questions about structure, narrative and scene selection. In response, I hope I was able to offer some small insights into the writing process. Why I chose the opening paragraphs. Why I decided on a time-based structure, largely following the events of Elizabeth’s life (except for an early flashback). How I strived to include engaging scenes when all I had was reams of exposition. Or how I wrote about (or didn’t write about) the years about which the research was silent.
I can’t speak for the group, but I found it all hugely enjoyable!
It helped that I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the craft of writing lately, because Writers Victoria have asked me to run a single-day workshop called Writing Other People’s Lives. At this stage it will be held in June, via Zoom (I think). I’ll write a separate post about it in the next week or two, when I have more details.
Given that Bayside Library’s online book club meeting was such a success, I’ve been inspired to meet with my own, new book club online too. We’ll try to come together in the next few weeks.
How about you? How are your book groups coming together during this period of physical—but not, I hope, social—isolation?
* Yes, all librarians are fabulous, I know. But it bears repeating.
Hi Michelle, Great to read about your book group Zoom chat. I did one with Bayside book group as well, a few weeks ago, but it was the first on, and we were sadly cut off after half an hour. Still, it was lovely to meet some keen readers and answer a few questions. Go, Bayside!
Hi Robyn, glad you had a great experience too. I think Zoom – as a company – have really stepped up. They addressed the privacy issues promptly, and I think they’ve now dispensed with that 40 minute limit on free users. It certainly didn’t apply to yesterday’s book club meeting and I know they were using the free version (Council has just signed up for Teams, so they’ll use that next time). It’s been a little telling, I think, to discover which organisations had their IT strategies in order and which did not…
I think I know the lovely librarian you mean. On different days of the week and once a month, each branch of the Bayside Libraries (there are 5, though one is closed for renovation as well as being Closed for Covid_19) holds Book Chat, where readers come along and chat about whatever they’ve read. It’s fairly unstructured, which is how I like it. The librarian does show-and-tell about new acquisitions and then we go round the table, talking about our books. I’ve been to these book chats at different branches and always enjoyed them, and the good thing is, that you’re not committed to reading something you’re not interested in or read ages ago and have forgotten, and you can attend or not as you please and nobody minds.
My Indonesian book group is different: the books are, always, harder to source. (Which is unforgiveable really, Indonesia is our closest neighbour and yet we routinely ignore their literature.) Anyway, we suggest titles on and off during the year as we come across them, and then at the end of the year we sift and cull and order the chosen titles for each month and that gives us time to hunt down a copy. We had to cancel our April meeting but there are discussions around using Skype or Zoom, so we’ll see what transpires for May.
Those Bayside Book Chats sound ideal – no pressure on anyone, perfect. And the show and tell about new acquisitions at the beginning sounds terrific. What was the spark that ignited your Indonesian book club? It sounds so interesting but so niche (and I agree that it’s ridiculous that it should be so!)
I came to it in a rather roundabout way. I was with a U3A Art Gallery group and one of the ladies was Indonesian. We got chatting because I used to teach Indonesian, and she (not realising how rusty my language skills were) invited me to lunch with a bunch of wonderful women. We had a great time, and through that I heard about this Indonesian book group forming – and was invited to join it.
That’s lovely – roundabout ways often are!
Book groups are great and I loved hearing about this group. I think our group is also a bit interested in the craft of writing, at least some of us are so we do talk about those things if we have an author present.
Our group held its first post-COVID-19 meeting by text using WhatsApp. That went better than we expected, but in 20 minutes we are testing out Skype (for next week’s meeting). We are trying to avoid Zoom because of the time limit. I don’t think Anonymous is right about them freeing it up. It seems to be random. Sometimes people have found their sessions extended and other times they ended with just a few minutes warning. I’ve investigated various options – Zoom, Hangouts, Skype, Skype Meet Now, Whereby and another – but each has limitations. Skype Meet Now looks good but you have to use Chrome or Edge which not everyone does. Anyhow, if Skype doesn’t go smoothly we’ll probably live with the limitations of Zoom.
I loved your comment about missing the cheese. I was talking to one of our members an hour ago. She didn’t join the WhatsApp meeting, and said she missed the Wine and Cake!!
I really like our group. We start at 8pm and chat for about half an hour. Then at 8.30 for about an hour we focus on the book. After that, we have coffee/tea and cake and talk about anything again. It’s a format that has served us well for over 30 years now.
Hi Sue – Anonymous was me, but I’ve now updated the comments so that I’m not anonymous anymore! Useful heads-up about Zoom, thanks. The format of your book sounds terrific – I love the way you have specified times for things. And thirty years, how absolutely wonderful. Congratulations!
I’m glad you’ve found another way to talk to people. Not something I do, let alone via technology which I have so far managed to avoid.