Book clubs: is the trend of literary gatherings dying out?

Book clubs: is the trend of literary gatherings dying out?

Exploring the resilience and evolution of book clubs in a 'post-pandemic' world

by Suswati Basu
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In recent years, book clubs have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, drawing not only avid readers but also celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Emma Roberts, and even Bridgerton creator Shonda Rhimes into their literary fold. The question that now lingers is whether this cultural phenomenon is fading into obscurity, losing its once-pervasive appeal.

Book clubs: still thriving or is it fading away?

COVID and the celebrities who sparked the book club craze


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♬ original sound – Oprah’s Book Club

The book club craze, which found renewed vigour in 1996 with Oprah’s Book Club, has been further stoked by the likes of Dua Lipa, who recently ventured into the world of literary recommendation with Service95. However, as we navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it’s worth pondering whether these discussion groups will maintain their grip on our collective reading habits.

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly provided a substantial boost to these group activities, initially taking them online and later transitioning them back into the real world. For many, like Clare from the Years of Reading Selfishly blog, book groups proved to be a lifeline, helping individuals ward off the perils of depression during difficult times. Despite the ongoing pandemic concerns, most things have now reopened, and groups are cautiously persevering. Just looking at TikTok, we can see that the #BookClub hashtag has a staggering 15.4 billion views.


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♬ Inspiring Motivation – D’Santos
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Carol Fitzgerald, president of The Book Report Network and the creator of, has insights to share on the longevity of book clubs. According to Fitzgerald, the average lifespan of a book club is a mere two and a half years.

Book clubs tend to come in a variety of forms and serve diverse purposes. For some, they are an opportunity to dissect literary classics like “Middlemarch,” while for others, they are a chance to briefly discuss a breezy beach read before delving into current events, dissecting “Nine Perfect Strangers,” or catching up on the latest in their children’s lives—all over a glass of Merlot. These clubs can dissolve, not due to the books themselves, but because of clashing expectations within the group.

It’s also to do with consistency. I am part of many book clubs and am ashamed to say, I often don’t get much time to actually join sessions. There are also lots of societies that start off with good intentions, but quickly fizzle out if there isn’t enough uptick or momentum.

What is done in book clubs?

While the specifics of each book club can vary significantly, there are several common activities that define these literary gatherings:

  • Reading a chosen book: At the heart of every group is the shared reading experience. Members collectively select a book, whether through voting, rotation, or other means, and commit to reading it over a designated period.
  • Meeting regularly: Book clubs typically establish a regular meeting schedule, often monthly, although the frequency can be adjusted to suit the preferences of the group.
  • Discussion: The cornerstone of any reading group is the animated discussion that follows the reading. Members come together to share their thoughts, perspectives, and insights on the chosen book. These discussions can traverse various aspects of the book, including its plot, characters, themes, writing style, and much more.
  • Facilitator or leader: Some groups appoint a facilitator or leader to guide the discussion and maintain its focus. This individual may prepare discussion questions or prompts in advance, ensuring that the conversation flows smoothly.
  • Refreshments: For many clubs, gatherings extend beyond the literary realm, incorporating food and beverages to create a sociable and relaxed atmosphere. Members may take turns hosting meetings and providing snacks or drinks.
  • Voting and selection: Choosing the next book to read is a crucial part of the experience. Members often suggest books, vote on their preferences, or take turns selecting the upcoming title, fostering a sense of ownership in the reading choices.
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  • Diverse book selection: To keep the reading experience engaging, many book clubs actively seek out diverse books across various genres, authors, and perspectives. This diversity ensures a fresh and stimulating journey through literature.
  • Social interaction: Beyond the books themselves, book clubs offer a valuable opportunity for social interaction. Friendships and connections often develop among members, and some clubs organize social events or outings related to their reading selections, strengthening the bonds forged over shared stories.
  • Online book clubs: In addition to traditional in-person gatherings, the digital age has given rise to online book clubs. These virtual communities discuss books through online forums, social media platforms, or video conferencing, connecting readers across geographical boundaries.
  • Guest authors or experts: To enrich the discussion and gain deeper insights, some book clubs invite authors or experts to join their meetings. These special guests may participate in Q&A sessions, offering a unique perspective on the book in question.
  • Themed discussions: Certain book clubs opt for themed reading selections, exploring books that revolve around specific topics, genres, or cultures. This thematic approach adds an extra layer of depth to the reading experience.

In essence, a book club is more than just a gathering of readers—it’s a dynamic forum where individuals unite to celebrate their shared passion for literature. The beauty of book clubs lies in their flexibility, accommodating a wide range of preferences and interests. Effective communication and the establishment of clear rules and expectations ensure that each member enjoys a rewarding experience within the group. Whether in person or online, book clubs continue to foster a sense of community and intellectual engagement among those who cherish the written word.

What the experts think

Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestselling author who has participated in over a hundred book club meetings, has noticed a growing frustration among members. She told How To Be Books that for some “it is the time frame given to read a particularly challenging book, for others it is simple burn out.” The proliferation of “bestselling” labels on book club picks can also backfire when the subject matter turns out to be obscure or the storytelling slow, leaving some longing for the days when members could simply choose books they enjoyed.

“I think some would love to go back to ‘choose the book you enjoyed’ premise.”

Rebecca Forster, USA TODAY Bestselling author

On the other hand, Gordon McClellan, the founder of DartFrog Books—an independent publishing company offering traditional, hybrid, and self-publishing platforms—asserts that the book club trend is far from dying out. He points to, boasting over 75,000 groups and counting, and the fact that “clubs these days don’t need to meet in person.” Platforms like facilitate virtual gatherings, opening the doors to a global audience. In essence, they are evolving.

“, for example, provides a club all the tools they need to organize and manage virtual meetings, which allows for a truly global audience. So, I’d say book clubs are changing, but definitely not dying out.”

Gordon McClellan, DartFrog Books Founder
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Peter Cox, a literary agent at Redhammer and founder of Litopia, the internet’s oldest writers’ colony, notes the historical reluctance of publishers to support literary circles, primarily due to the industry’s non-consumer-facing nature. However, the rise of internet book clubs, often conducted via platforms like Zoom, has breathed new life into the concept, fostering global interactions. Special-interest clubs, too, remain robust, providing a space for people with shared passions to connect, but he adds that “the ‘generalist’ book club is probably in long-term decline.”

“[Special]-interest book clubs show little sign of withering, in fact lockdown made them all the more important: they were often they only way that people could get together over a shared passion.”

Peter Cox, Litopia Founder

In the end, Terena Bell, an independent publicist and author, observes that in the United States, book clubs are far from declining. As the nation gradually returns to normalcy, many are transitioning back to in-person meetings, often in bars or microbreweries. Restaurants have also reopened, providing more venues for gatherings. The enduring appeal of them was evident at the Brooklyn Book Festival she says, where attendees frequently mentioned that they read whatever their book club selects—a testament to the enduring impact these clubs have on reading habits.

“A smart marketing strategy always includes them as book clubs mean sales of multiple copies.”


The future of book clubs: changing trends and enduring appeal

Consequently, the book club trend is not fading away but is rather undergoing a transformation. The pandemic reshaped the way these clubs operate, giving rise to virtual meetings and fostering a more inclusive global community. As society reopens, these social groups are adapting to the new normal, finding innovative ways to engage readers and maintain their relevance. Far from being on life support, book clubs are thriving in an evolving landscape where the love of literature remains a driving force.

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