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Talking About Books: Online Book Clubs, Forums, and Real Life

Bibliothèque by Francois SchuitenSo, for those of you that know me from the forum, you won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan (addict) of online book clubs. Just to give you an idea how much of an addict, within the past 9 months, I have participated in 22 book club reads on at least some level. Now, I don’t expect anyone else to be quite that neurotic (insane), but I am often surprised that more people don’t participate (for the record, this is not just a sales pitch for our book clubs. I have participated in book clubs elsewhere and have found the same thing, more on that to come). For some, I think people just either don’t know about the book clubs, or they prefer to choose their own books each month.

I also suppose it comes down to different people looking for different things with their reading. For me, I think it comes from a desire to feel a part of something, to be able to discuss the books I spend so much time reading. Many fans of the genre seem to be surrounded by other fans of the genre within their real life. Or perhaps if not surrounded, at least have access to some. I suppose if I looked harder, maybe I could find people in real life, but I haven’t yet. And that’s likely outside my “comfort zone”. Computers are not outside that zone, and so I have found the ability to seek out a social outlet for these thoughts I have on books as I read them.

A Good Book by B1nd1The book clubs not only give me a book that I know I will get to chat with people about, it also presents the opportunity to read things I would normally overlook, or place so far down my TBR pile that I may as well not even bother putting it on in the first place. I’ve found some wonderful books this year because of book clubs. Fevre Dream, I Am Legend, are two of my favorites from this year that I know I would not have read otherwise.

Then there are books like K. J. Parker’s The Folding Knife. I was planning on reading this one whether the book club did or not, but being able to have discussions on it really added to the experience. This is a book that is even better when you look at the details, and every reader can find something that you might have missed on your own. Reading along with a group of people, you get the benefit of someone pointing out things you may have missed. And of course, it is fun to share your own finding/theories on a book like that as well. To read The Folding Knife and then just set it down and start another book without anyone to discuss it with would be a shame.

Author interaction is another great benefit of online book club reads. Getting an author lined up to do a Q&A with a book club read is an excellent and unique experience. Being able to go to the source of the story and ask whatever questions come to mind and get an answer (as long as it is not a spoiler for future books) is just something you don’t get outside of online book clubs.

Book Werm by Kristin KestAnyway, I am curious how the online access to genre communities has impacted the genre as a whole. It seems like it would strengthen it, broaden its reaches to more readers, maybe pull readers like myself in more than I may have otherwise been. Being able to not only enjoy the books I read, but also enjoy discussions on them has really solidified my love of the genre. So, I thank everyone who has helped me reach this point. To all those that share their thoughts/ideas/recommendations, to those of you who take the time to read and discuss our book club, thanks for creating a community that fosters fantasy fans new and old.

And for those that don’t participate in forums and online book clubs, where do you find an outlet for discussion? Or do you just read and move on and treat the books as a purely solitary experience?

The Gift of Knowledge by Jeremy OwenIn an effort to answer these questions I decided to run a poll. I can’t say the results surprised me. (For the record, I know these results would not hold up to any scientific scrutiny. For one, the people filling it out are obviously readers who are online. The results are going to be skewed because it immediately excludes readers that are not on forums or Twitter. Most of my respondents came from r/Fantasy on Reddit, so the results are going to be skewed in favor of that demographic). Anyway, to the data I have.

Readers were given a number of options and could check all that applied. What was the option chosen most often? Discussing the book with people in real life. *sigh* I have to admit to being a tad jealous. Being able to discuss books with someone in my real life would be wonderful, but unfortunately, I don’t know anyone with similar taste in books.

Discussing books on online forums and message boards was a very close second place. For this, I was thinking places like the forums here and also r/Fantasy. These are great places to get recommendations and discuss some of the things you are reading. I never envisioned how useful I would find the forum to be once I became an active participant. I could probably write another whole post speculating on how much online forums, discussions and author accessibility has spread the genre’s footprint. I really don’t know if this is true, but I think it really helped pull me in. Certainly I am not the only one.

The Escape from Apartment 1A by robotniccAn accidental omission on my part was Twitter. I think this would have scored quite high as it had a good number of write-ins. I discuss books there, as do most of the people I follow. Twitter has some major limitations though. Beyond the obvious 140 character limit, there is also the fact that many people can see what you tweet, so really, spoiler free is the friendlier way to discuss. It is great for finding new books as people leave a few words about their latest read. For me, Twitter is more a place for recommendations than for real discussions.

Twice as many people just don’t discuss the books they read at all than participate in online book clubs. This used to be me until I started to seek out online book clubs. I actually only joined the forum to participate in the book clubs.

So, what was the bottom line? Online book clubs was not a popular option. People were about 4 times more likely to discuss with people in real life than participate in an online book club. Seeing participation in books clubs, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I realize there are some sacrifices made when you do book clubs. The most obvious is that you are at the mercy of the group to select the book. Also, taking the time to come up with comments on the book every week. It takes a bit more time than just having a conversation in a forum thread.

But, there are benefits. For me, knowing I get to chat about my latest book that I love or hate (and trust me, I have really hated a couple of the book club reads *eyes Foundling and Spring Heeled Jack*), that makes it worth it. For me, the benefit of sharing thoughts with other readers far outweighs the sacrifice.

Title image by Deborah DeWit.

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7 Comments

  1. I love online book clubs! I have friends offline who do like science fiction and fantasy, but they don’t like discussing books. It actually really annoys them to talk about things too much – books, movies, TV or games, doesn’t matter. They just want to enjoy the story and then put it down and forget it again afterwards and move on to the next thing. This is so not how I enjoy things. I like to discuss things for ages afterwards!

    I agree with you about feeling part of something in a book club, and being able to get more from a book by talking about it with others. And someone will always spot something that you didn’t, or interpret something a bit differently. I find that really fun. The Folding Knife was a perfect example of how fantastic book clubs can be. Really enhanced an already-great book for me. 🙂

    Arry, you might like The Sword and Laser book club on Goodreads, if you’re not already a member. They have pretty full and active forums, so there are always a fair few people discussing the book, which is good. The hosts of the podcast also discuss the book on the podcast, and will pick up on discussions that are happening in the forum. Fantasy Faction and Sword & Laser are my favourite online book clubs. 🙂 Co-incidentally I just wrote an article on Podcasts, so there’s a bit more about S&L in there, if you’re interested.

    And thanks for running the FF book clubs! I absolutely love joining in each month!

    • Avatar Lisa (Arry) says:

      Thanks Victoria!! Definitely glad to have you take part in the book clubs, you have great comments/insights into the books. And yes, The Folding Knife discussions were fantastic. I think that was probably my favorite book discussion this year. I’ve looked at Sword and Laser, I just don’t seem to find the time to listen to podcasts. It would eat into my reading time and I guess I am selfish 🙂 But I may check out their book clubs (although between the ones here and the new r/Fantasy one on Goodreads, I should leave some time to read books solely of my own choosing. 🙂 )

  2. I think bookclubs (both online and in person are great!) As an author there is nothing better than fielding questions from readers. We spend so much time in utter isolation, banging away at the keys and we never know for sure if the readers picked up on clue A or nuance B. Then you go to a book club and get to see firsthand that they have! I’m been fortunate that my books have been picked for a number of bookclub reads on goodreads and I always make myself available. I even have an in person one coming up Nov 3 here in Virginia and those are even better as they are face-to-face.

    • Avatar Lisa (Arry) says:

      Glad you are able to get that feedback! Seeing the discussions from the author side of things has certainly got to be interesting. And … Virginia … so close, yet so far! I’ve had no luck finding in person book clubs that match my reading preferences.

  3. Avatar Ann Anderson says:

    Until I started following some of my favourite authors on Twitter I didn’t know that there were online book clubs. So will be checking them out, any suggestions welcome!

    • Avatar Lisa (Arry) says:

      I really enjoy the book clubs on the forum here at Fantasy Faction:
      http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/book-club/

      It’s a really good group of people, it’s small enough you start to feel like you “know” each other and guess which books other members may enjoy. It feels more like a community than some of the other ones I have tried. But if you check it out and think it’s not for you, please let me know I can definitely let you know some of the other ones I have seen and tried.

  4. Avatar xiagan says:

    Great article! (And I like the title you’ve finally come up with. ;))

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