June 26, 2022

How Book Clubs Across India Went Online During the Pandemic

Despite the many portrayals of bibliophiles as loners, reading can be a social enterprise. Abigail Williams, in her book
The social life of books , writing about the prevalence of communal reading in eighteenth-century England. Reading together was then necessary, for two reasons: in the absence of modern printing technologies, not everyone had a book; and it was the only way for the visually impaired to consume a book because ophthalmology was underdeveloped and blisters did not exist. Over the following centuries, technologies progressed, sight improved, books abounded, reading became more solitary. Yet the inherent need to share stories has never changed. Book discussions are now more interpersonal and unorganized, but there were manifestations of 18th century book groups in the form of book clubs.

A book club can connect a doctor, an entrepreneur, a homemaker, and a college student through their shared love of reading. The pandemic has, however, interrupted regular fixtures for most clubs. Here’s how they kept the conversations going.

Belongg is not a conventional book club. Lasya Nadimpally, its community manager, calls it a “cultural platform to talk about identity and discrimination”. The book club, launched last year, is part of a social enterprise that seeks to provide services in housing, education among others to excluded and underserved communities. Aside from discussions, the thriving book club hosted film screenings, potlucks, author book readings and more. The pandemic has put all these offline activities on hold. But Belongg maximized the situation.

Over the past five months, he has planned to create local chapters of the club in more than 50 cities, checked his Twitter account, organized a four-day online literature festival on inclusion and diversity, weekly readings of authors, mental health webinars and other events. . “In a way, it was easier for us now than before to reach many authors, publishers and bookstores, because most of them were relatively free,” says Lasya. “So despite not having our offline business, we had a lot online.”

How to join: The book club is open and free for everyone. For more details visit: belong.net/book-club

When author Milan Vohra moved to Bengaluru in the late 90s, in search of like-minded people, she joined a few book clubs – big and small – that offered different discussion formats. “I wanted to be with a book club where everyone had a say. From the choice of book we selected for the month, to the venue, or even a change in meeting date or time – always would by vote and majority consensus. A democratic book club – of book lovers, by book lovers, for book lovers.” So she created one in 2012 with her friends. They had brainstormed the idea over a meal at a café – hence the “Masala” in the name. The club meets once a month to discuss a book that its members – aged between 20 and 50 – have chosen via a poll.

Over the past eight years, several long-time members of the club have had to leave Bengaluru. “The pandemic has forced us to connect. Anyone who has moved to other cities could also join us now,” says Milan, “We are thinking of having them via video call even after they start meeting in person again.

How to join: Can message club founder Milan Vohra on Facebook.

Last Sunday, members of Books N Conversations created art with pencils and watercolors, listening to music and instructions from a psychologist. With their regular monthly meetings on hiatus, the all-female two-year-old book club decided to meet online for an art therapy session. “It was an enriching experience,” says Sammy Sahni, who founded the club with Uzma Hyder, “The theme of the session was emotional boundaries. So we drew and discussed the people in our lives and the emotional boundaries we have. for each of them.

The club is longing for its pre-pandemic routine of exploring Hyderabad cafes and discussing books in person. Club members vote to choose the “book of the month”. The genre changes every month. But since the pandemic, Sammy says, the club has been discussing books related to personal growth. “It’s heartwarming to see people showing up for meetings even during this time. Besides our usual book talks, we plan to have more interactive sessions like art therapy to break up the monotony.

How to join: Women interested in joining the club can message the Instagram page, BooksNConversations.

Shvetha Jaishankar, a former beauty queen and author, left Chennai at the age of 17 who had just started modeling. Returning to her hometown after a decade in 2010, she wanted to make new friends. The following year, she founded Book Cellar with two of her friends. “I got the idea from my neighbor in London, who had a book club,” says Shvetha. The club is growing little by little. But the members never exceeded 15 because she wanted the group to be tight.

“We meet once a month in a cafe or in one of our homes and discuss everything under the sun, as well as the book,” says Shvetha. “As our club was built on the idea of ​​making social connections, it’s interesting and different to meet online now.”

How to join: By invitation only

For book clubs, meeting online is not an entirely unfavorable option. This reduces travel time and effort. In some cases, members who have moved to other cities can also join meetups. Joe Cleetus of the Kochi Reading Group, however, says: “No. We would gladly go the extra mile to get out of our homes and gather in a physical space, because besides reading there are friendships to nurture, and that requires the warmth of human contact. The group, which now has 14 members, was formed in 2006. Members meet once a month, usually for about two hours on Friday evenings at the Cochin Yacht Club.

“We read a novel or poems. Everyone reads a passage from the novel and we chat; or a poem or two by a poet of their choice,” says Joe. He misses celebrating band members’ birthdays, kissing, and “the pandemonium of occasional small group simultaneous conversations”. But Joe says the members look forward to the online meetings they now have because it makes them feel like they are together.

How to join: By invitation only. For more details visit their blog kochiread.blogspot.com