Cyberspace Book Club


Living twenty-five miles from the nearest town, I don’t attend many meetings and social gatherings of any kind. I communicate with many book-loving friends across the country through email and the telephone to discuss our latest good reads. This got me to thinking about how a viable cyberspace book club could be constituted and how I could incorporate my ideas on the way to choose books and facilitate productive discussion.

For such a long-distance book club, I first considered using a real-time chat room, Skype, or a conference call. I discarded these ideas because some potential members might be technologically challenged and might need training on use of these tools or have to acquire them. Email is now universally used, so I began to conceive ways in which it could be the viable mode of discussion and could even yield livelier exchanges than in live meetings.

A recognized facilitator is necessary to plan and to keep discussion on track. I appoint myself. An annual list of ten books would be selected for the reading year, which would run from September to June. The reading list will be given to members in June so that they can read the books in the order and at the rate they wish. An advance list also enables members to get a jumpstart on the reading of the books during July and August while also affording plenty of time to re-read portions of a book before a book is scheduled to be discussed.

Each member establishes a mailing list in their email program for the book club. The discussion opens on the first day of the month that a particular book is scheduled to be discussed. Members begin to pose questions or write comments about the book and continue to discuss that book throughout that month. Members set their email messages to not include the message to which they are responding. This is important to prevent the generation of long messages with every attached message ever made about that comment included in the latest message. Comments will be controlled through the subject line. When responding to a comment, the responder uses the same subject line as the one to which he is responding. When starting a new line of discussion, the member writes that topic in the subject line. Discussion of the book continues throughout the month–day or night.  I believe written discussion will generate thorough-going and thoughtful commentary, because it allows time for readers to formulate ideas and responses and to find pertinent references in the book. I’d have members set up subfolders by book title in their email under the main folder Book Club in which they can easily find and read comments by subject line.

How will the books be chosen? Suggestions can be solicited from all members, but the facilitator/directress/Autocrat of the Cyber Book Club–ME– -makes the final selection from the suggestions. The criteria for proposed books: 1) published at least twenty years ago. I want books that have demonstrated some staying power. There are already plenty of clubs that focus on currently much talked-about books. 2) the author has received some recognition in the form of a National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Booker Award, or another prestigious award, and not necessarily the book for which they won the award. 3) inclusion of authors not writing in English where good translations exist and whose books have international recognition. 4) inclusion of some “classics”  from prior centuries. 5) inclusion of some significant non-fiction–biography, autobiography, memoir, etc.  As an example, here’s one possible calendar: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Book of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

Lastly, I’d like a span of age groups and a mix of men and women in the book club; but I’m stumped on how to achieve this diversity. There are many factors at work that tend to make book clubs rather homogenous. It’s not my purpose here to explore the reasons for this, only to state my preferences.  Differences in age and in gender provide a range of perspectives and insights that will enhance the liveliness of the Cyberspace Book Club.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by on January 23, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Sounds like a good idea, Olivia. I don’t know if I’d be able to keep up with the reading, but let’s give it a try. What’s our first book? Nancy


  2. You’ve put so much careful thought into this that I’m willing to accept without question, just to get the ball rolling; kinks can be worked out along the way. If you accept me, then I’m in.


    • So far two of you are interested in trying this experiment. I’ll give it to the end of the month to see if there are any more. Then we can choose books for March, April and June. In June we can develop a calendar of reading for September 2015 through June 2016. It’s difficult to believe we’re that far already into the 21st century. Gadzooks!


  3. The Cyberspace Book Club was launched in March. The club has three frequent contributors and two lurkers. We’d like more members. To start off we decided to take a look at the murder mystery genre since in the last few decades it’s shown a literary bent. We chose these four books to take us through June: Still Life by Louise Penny, Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.


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