November 25, 2022

From zoom to virtual reality: pandemic pushes Duluth book clubs online

Book clubs around the world have sprung up or grown, connecting readers to young writers in prison, to those seeking to read and serve, or to 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 northerners have taken advantage of the opportunity to go far – and in one case, another realm of reality – while others have embraced regional offerings or are waiting for the real thing.

Here’s a look at how some Twin Ports readers connect to read audiobooks during COVID-19.

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Barbara fischer

Barbara fischer

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

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

There were nods, a frozen screen incident, and discussions about Hulu’s adaptation of another Larson book called “The Devil in the White City.”

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

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 meeting, Jane Brissett zoomed in from Minneapolis, Yvette Krech from Florida.

While they may have changed the way they meet, Last Word still has around 20 members and meets 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. (Photo submitted)

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

Heidi harrison

Heidi harrison

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

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

She visits friends and other women; she plays ping-pong 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 – have reached out.

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

They discuss Lucy Foley’s “The Guest List” for two time slots this week: one after working hours and another over the weekend, a more user-friendly option for international time zones.

The Senior Librarian at Duluth Public Library in Youth Services has participated in a couple of book clubs over the years. She had never really played video games before this, but she couldn’t wait to chat with people from other parts of the world.

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

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

While the manager of the Fitger Bookstore hosted virtual authors’ events and maintained discussions of the books on social media, Jubenville finally kicked off the first boutique meeting in early March, at the request of people from the exterior 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 to gain insight beyond Duluth.

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

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Kay gower

Kay gower

Duluth’s Friday Club – which meets on Thursdays by the way – is on sabbatical during the pandemic.

Things were changing so quickly a year ago, and the club’s board of directors chose to take a break.

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

The decision is partly due to the unique format of the century-old group. Instead of reading and chatting with all members, Friday Club attendees organize book review presentations. Over the past year, some members have logged in on their latest reads via email. Gower also continued to read, and although she didn’t join other clubs, she became active in her church, which meets online.

“I’ve only been taking a step back for a year,” she said.

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

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Lori Crocker

Lori Crocker

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

Participation is free with the book kits prepared by the library, e-books and audiobooks for those who do not use curbside pickup, but access can be difficult for people outside our area and without a Duluth library card, said Lori Crocker, coordinator of the DPL branch.

“A lot of people would love to go back there in person, but I also know it’s a great, safe way to continue to connect, and every time we meet we are so vocally grateful that we can spend some time together,” he said. she added.

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 group she previously ran and she’s involved in a laid-back club with three longtime friends.

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

They meet bimonthly; sometimes they skip a month. No matter how often they meet, having that point of contact benefits her 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 connections. “To spend quality time with other humans and not get lost in isolation or loneliness, but to truly be part of the community,” she said.

When asked if the DPL club could migrate in person, Crocker said it depends on the 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, this has to be a discussion we’ll have. “

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Catherine Caton

Catherine Caton

Cathy Cato from Duluth has been attending the online meetings of the Poetry Book Club at Zenith Bookstore for the past four months.

Discussing the works of Nikki Giovanni and Lorine Niedecker, their discussions go the same way 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 considerably”. This has been important both socially and professionally. Studying and discussing poetry has helped her write more succinctly.

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

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

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Nikki silvestrini

Nikki silvestrini

Nikki Silvestrini co-directed the graphic novel and beer book club of Zenith Bookstore, which “collapsed and dissolved” when the pandemic struck – in part because it was linked to an in-person location .

We didn’t know how to juggle facilitation and 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, a national group with chapters across the country.

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

They focus on classics, new and upcoming, award-winning, and their discussions run the gamut of how literature has changed, to what ratings would certain books be appealing, or what that means for them. children of today.

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

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

This year they are reading “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 fit 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 fully or almost virtual as security 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 a few virtual book clubs that stretch beyond Northland: