November 25, 2022

From Zoom to virtual reality: Pandemic pushes Duluth book clubs online – Duluth News Tribune

The pandemic has pushed our concerts, movies, and even book clubs online.

Around the world, book clubs have sprung up or grown, connecting readers with young incarcerated writers, those seeking to read and serve, or delve into LGBTQ+ history. Whether hosted by an NFL athlete or an Oscar-winning actress, these virtual groups provide an outlet for anyone with online access.

Some Northlanders have taken advantage of being able to reach far and wide – and in one case, into another realm of reality – while others have embraced regional offerings or held their ground for the real thing.

Here’s a look at how some Twin Ports readers are tuning in to talk about books during COVID-19.

Barbara Fisher

About 14 people logged in to a recent Last Word Book Club meeting. The subject: “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson.

“He has a way of pulling you in with the beat,” one member said.

There were nods, a frozen-screen incident, and talk of a Hulu adaptation of another Larson book called “The Devil in White Town.”

Last Word has been together since 1991, said Barbara Fischer, an original participant.

The wonderful thing about video conferencing is that former members or snowbirds, who have moved to other states, can participate safely and easily, Fischer said.

During the reunion, Jane Brissett zoomed in from Minneapolis, Yvette Krech from Florida.

Although they have changed the way they meet, Last Word still maintains its membership at around 20, and they meet regularly on the second Thursday of the month.


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Heidi Harrison appears as an avatar in her Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality system. (Submitted photo)

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Heidi Harrison

One Duluthian takes virtual book clubs to the next level – into virtual reality.

Heidi Harrison has weathered the pandemic in part thanks to her Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality system. “It’s a social outlet, something to do when I was home. It’s so cool, so immersive, it feels like you’re really there,” she said.

She visits friends and other women; she plays table tennis or mini golf.

About a month ago, she thought about starting a virtual reality book club. She posted on her Facebook group, Oculus Quest Ladies, and more than 100 women – from Europe to Australia – reached out to her.

Next, a library was created in AltspaceVR specifically for book club members, or their avatars, to meet.

They discuss “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley during two time slots this week – one after hours and another during the weekend, a friendlier option for international time zones.

The Senior Library Technician for Youth Services at the Duluth Public Library has participated in a couple of book clubs over the years. She’s never really played video games before, but she’s looking forward to chatting with people from other parts of the world.

“It’s ‘Ready Player One’ coming to life,” Harrison said, referring to the sci-fi book-turned-movie.

Jennifer Jubenville was in the process of starting an online book club when COVID-19 hit.

While Fitger’s manager’s bookstore has held virtual author events and kept book discussions going via social media, Jubenville finally kicked off the store’s first meeting in early March, at the urging of outsiders. and a loyal reader of the store’s newsletter.

Jubenville said she also heard interest from readers in New York, Illinois and Nebraska, and saw an opportunity for insight beyond Duluth.

“Indie businesses had to figure out how to be creative and expand their reach,” she said.


Kay Gower

The Friday Club of Duluth – which incidentally meets on Thursdays – is on sabbatical during the pandemic.

Things were moving so fast a year ago, and the club’s board chose to take a break.

“We decided it would be very difficult to meet over Zoom. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we just took a year off,” Kay Gower said. “Maybe we weren’t optimistic enough.”

The decision was partly based on the unique format of the century-old group. Instead of a reading and discussion with all members, Friday Club attendees host book review presentations. Over the past year, some members have logged in on their latest readings via email. Gower has also continued reading, and while she hasn’t joined other clubs, she has become active in her church, which meets online.

“It’s just been a year since I took a step back,” she said.

Group members miss their bi-monthly meetings in November and December; they miss their holiday lunch. When asked if the Friday Club might see a possible move to virtual, Gower replied: “At this stage, no. If you had asked me the question in the fall, my answer might have been different.

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Lori Crocker

On the first Wednesday of the month, about 10 people video chat from Northland, the Twin Cities and Wisconsin for the Duluth Public Library Book Club.

Attendance is free with library-prepared book kits, e-books, and audiobooks for those not using curbside pickup, but access may be difficult for people outside of our area and without a Duluth library card, said DPL branch coordinator Lori Crocker.

“A lot of people would love to come back in person, but I also know it’s a great, safe way to continue to connect, and every time we meet, we vocally enjoy being able to hang out together,” he said. -she adds.

While Crocker hosts the DPL club, she is also a member of two other virtual groups because “two is not enough,” she said with a laugh.

Crocker joins a Colorado-based band she led, and she is involved in a casual club with three longtime friends.

“We got closer when the pandemic hit because we had a little more time to connect, rekindle friendship time and ‘us’ time to do something we all originally bonded over. , which was the reading,” Crocker said.

They meet twice a month; sometimes they skip a month. No matter how often they meet, having that point of contact benefits their relationships and overall well-being.

Crocker said she doesn’t have any interpersonal interactions outside of work, so it’s an opportunity to socialize and feel good about not losing touch. “Spending quality time with other humans and not getting lost in isolation or loneliness, but actually being part of the community,” she said.

When asked if the DPL club could migrate to the person, Crocker said it depends on safety guidelines and the comfort level of the participants.

“The library is there to serve the community,” she said. “If a book club serves the community better virtually, that must be a discussion we will have.”

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Cathy Catton

Cathy Cato of Duluth has been participating in Zenith Bookstore’s Poetry Book Club online meetings for four months.

Discussing the works of Nikki Giovanni and Lorine Niedecker, their discussions happen the same online as they do face-to-face, Cato said, but she still misses meeting in person.

Cato retired a year ago and said his life “has slowed down tremendously”. It was important socially, as well as professionally. Studying and discussing poetry helped her write more succinctly.

She is grateful for an online format, the benefits of which extend to her family:

“My sister, she is a good example. She has been in India for a while and she is still able to go online and read books to her children.

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Nikki Silvestrini

Nikki Silvestrini co-run Zenith Bookstore’s beer graphic novel and book club, which “fizzled and disbanded” when the pandemic hit – in part because it was tied to a location in person.

We didn’t know how to juggle the terms of changing conditions, she said. Also, a year ago Zoom was not a tool used by Silvestrini or others.

She was without a book club for a few months until July when she was approached to work with Chapter & Verse, which is a national group with chapters across the country.

The group is founded on educators, librarians and children’s book enthusiasts.

They focus on classics, new and upcoming winners, and their discussions run the gamut from how literature has changed, what ratings certain books would appeal to, or what it means for kids in the future. ‘today.

Before going entirely online, Chapter & Verse met in a member’s backyard over the summer before moving to a garage (with an open door) in September.

Silvestrini saw many familiar faces from Duluth’s literary community and some she saw from beyond when they went virtual. “It brought together so many interesting people from both coasts. … Geography doesn’t matter,” she said.

This year they read “The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee”; “tar beach”; and “Some places more than others”; Silvestrini is now the book selector for the Duluth chapter – a good choice as she is passionate about children’s literature.

Silvestrini prefers to meet socially distant face to face, share a common space, and she sees the potential for some chapters to remain entirely or near-virtual as safety guidelines change.

I really appreciate the technology that gave us this opportunity, she said, but:

“You can see people’s reactions and you don’t have to worry about long, weird technical difficulties and people’s microphones not working.”


  • To learn more about the virtual reality book club, contact Heidi Harrison at [email protected]


Here are some virtual book clubs that extend beyond Northland: