Social Capital and Virtual Book Clubs

Are you currently in a book club? What do you do to maintain the success of the club?

With the few hours of ‘adult time’ that I have at night, one of my favorite things to do is read. Not on my Nook, iPad, or tablet; I like to read from good old library books. I know, I know, call me a Luddite, but at the end of a long work day, and after an evening of bartering with my children about screen time, the last thing I want to do is plug into another device.

I am always looking for my next great read. I have been on a world journey recently, reading about Vietnamese art and the struggle for freedom in a post-war Vietnam, in “The Beauty of Humanity Movement” by Camilla Gibb. I then traveled to London and the story of a family growing up in a Jewish suburb, in “The Innocents” by Francesca Segal. I am now in Mumbai, reading a non-fiction book about the struggle of child garbage sellers, in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo.

Since moving to Connecticut I have been involved in several failed attempts at starting and joining various book clubs.

It seems that every group that I have been involved with fizzles out over time due to the lack of participation. It seems to be too much to devote the time to meet AND find the time to read. This really bums me out.

In the age of speed, I find that people are reading articles, watching videos on You Tube, or watching TV. Will the hobby of reading become obsolete by the time my daughters are in high school?

I recently googled “book clubs” and found an emerging trend in the creation of virtual book clubs. If you visit you can create and maintain your very own virtual book club. An on-line forum where you never have to leave your home or actually interact with anyone in the flesh. I do think this is a great idea for people crunched for time, or for groups of friends or family members who do not live near each other. But, if you never have a real meeting how do you bum that delicious glass of wine off your neighbor’s friend who is wine distributor?

In Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” he discusses the decline of American participation in community. An ongoing trend since the 1970’s, he documents decline in a commitment to social capital; things like trust, mutual obligation, commitment, dedication, and participation in an active society have become much less important in the lives of most Americans. His main focus is a study documenting that the actual number of bowlers has increased since the 1960’s but the number of successful bowling leagues has dramatically decreased. Apparently, more people are bowling, but they are doing so alone, or in small isolated groups. This social behavior transcends many different social groups and organizations.

In my experience, book clubs are fading away as fast as bowling leagues. Is it the lack of time, lack of desire, or an increase in fast, communicative technology that renders book clubs boring and outdated?

While book clubs are only one small example of how individuals can help to build the social capital that exists within their community, I hate to see them become extinct, so my search for the perfect book club will continue. In the meantime, I have convinced friends to join me at Friday night Rock N’ Bowl, whether I can turn that small success into actual league participation, well, that remains to be seen.


“The Winners”, photo credit: Jennifer Griffin

7 thoughts on “Social Capital and Virtual Book Clubs

  1. I have always loved the “idea” of book clubs but never have been in one. The main thing I like is with so many choices, and duds, out there for reading, how do you know what to read? A book club seems like a great way to get reading suggestions. And I love your comment on bumming the glass of wine! LOL Seriously, who can pass that up?

    1. Kriste-there are tons of websites that have great book club reccomendations. Our library has started setting aside suggested book club reads and they even include discussion guides and questions to consider as you read the book. It makes it super easy, all you have to do is find some fun people who are committed to reading, and buy some delicious wine!!

  2. I love this topic- I have loved reading, holding, smelling (yes i meant to write that) books since I was a little girl. I do belong to a book club, and though I tend not to go during my busy months at work they always welcome me with a glass of wine and good discussion when I do show up. I think one of the keys to success is having a core group- even just 2 or 3 people- who are in it “for real” and then casting a wide net so you always have a large enough group to really have a discussion that offers different perspectives. And though I prefer a hard copy- I think any page/screen that enables you to get that beautiful content in your head is well worth it.
    Enjoy your travels 🙂

  3. I’m officially still a member of a longstanding book club here in town. I say “officially” because I haven’t attended in almost a year. I still get the invitations and the lists of books, but I don’t read them and I don’t attend the monthly discussions. Not really sure why, just time and exhaustion, I guess. I LOVE to read actual books, too, and would rather read a book than most other activities, so that’s not even an excuse. Hmm.

    1. Hmm…that is interesting. You love to read, but you don’t go to the meetings. Do you not like the people who participate? Maybe we need to start a Sims, nut-free, working moms book club???

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