When the pandemic first struck, everything that was once a face-to-face experience was projected onto Zoom’s two-dimensional screens. At first it was exciting: you could have your own snacks, wear whatever you want, and go to bed right away after chatting with friends. But, soon, the novelty and sparkle of it all faded, and we missed the physical contact, chatter, and community that comes with hanging out in real life.
Most gatherings just got worse when they moved from real life to online life. Online weddings were a complete disappointment. Dating Zoom was weird. And online birthday parties couldn’t be more awkward, tempting to have an informal conversation when each person had to be specially muted or have their mic on.
Then, vaccines became more readily available and in-person outings were no longer a thing of the past. We started to meet in person again, and it was wonderful. Almost all of the gatherings that have gone through the pandemic change have come to life in a bigger and better way after more than a year of internet siphoning. The concerts are sold out, the bars are full and it is rare to see someone turn down an invitation to a barbecue.
Almost all gatherings, that is, except book clubs.
I read a lot and love the low pressure engagement of a virtual book club. I was bad at going to book clubs in real life before the pandemic, because my book club friends and I all have very busy schedules, so finding a time to meet us all was difficult. It’s easier to plan outings online because you can organize them from anywhere – in your family’s home, with your partner, or even from your own bed. Now that the meetups are resuming in apartments and bars, programming is once again more difficult and, honestly, I don’t want to participate anymore. Conversations are always too distracted, and I don’t like having to get dressed and buy a cheese board to discuss a book I didn’t like too much.
But it’s not just the programming – there are four main reasons book clubs get ruined by an IRL meet, and why I’ll stay home.
Snacks are better at home
I like to eat and drink with my friends but I also like having money to pay the rent. Eating at home is simply cheaper, and if you want to splurge you can have the exact snacks you want (a cheese board with Takis on it) without having to be embarrassed or compromise with those who do. may have a more refined palate.
I try to keep it comfortable
Everyone knows that it’s easier to read and enjoy a book when you’re snuggled up in sun clothes or pajamas. Sure, you could theoretically wear it to a bar or restaurant, but it’s much easier to do in the comfort of your own home. There is something about discussing a book in your pajamas that makes it more palatable than when you are wearing jeans. Let me be at ease while we discuss difficult topics!
Let’s do it in low pressure
Something I’ve grown to love during the Home and Distance Era of 2020 is the low pressure of a Zoom book club. You can come and go as you please, you can mute your mic if you don’t feel like contributing to the conversation, and you can take in everything without the pressure of adding additional comments. It’s not as easy when you meet in person, going from reader to reader asking them how they feel about a passage.
Keep the discussion on track
The book discussion always goes off the rails when spending time with real-life friends. It’s amazing and a lot of fun and can make a really great group, but if you’re actually trying to meet up to talk about a novel that you liked or hated or felt something in between it’s very difficult to navigate without being Rude. People have side conversations which make it difficult to follow up on the main discussion, and sometimes side conversations are more fun! But if the purpose of a book club is to talk about a book, that’s a lot easier to do than on Zoom, where you can’t have side conversations and the conversation doesn’t derail as easily. I learned on Zoom that having someone in charge can make everything run smoothly, but you don’t necessarily need a calendar. It just helps to have someone in charge of the mute button.
So for now, while I enjoy the idea of seeing my friends in real life, I’m going to tap into my book club and just stick with my remotes. My book club friends seem to get it all – and maybe one day I’ll convince them to join me on Zoom.