Bookish knows that readers’ time is valuable. Book clubs can only read so many books a year, and it can be a challenge narrowing down what to pick next. This is why we launched Kelly’s Pick, a seasonal feature where we share our must-read book of the moment. We also test out the book first in our own internal book club, and then give you and your club all of the meeting goodies we created (discussion guides, snack recipes, playlists, and more). And since there are no secrets in book club, we’ll experiment with new book club styles and share the results—and you know we’ll always be honest with you. In return, we hope you share your club’s experiences with reading this season’s pick, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, in the comments below or on social media using #KellysPick.
The scene (aka five women, three states, one book)
The Bookish team works remotely. Lindsey and Elizabeth live on the West Coast; Kelly, Tarah, and Dana live in various spots along the East Coast. As a result, we knew that our book club would need to be virtual. We tossed out a few different options (Facebook, Goodreads, Slack, Skype), before ultimately deciding to hold our first meeting as a group call. (We plan to try other platforms for future book club meetings, so stay tuned!)
The internet gods blessed us with strong connections for the online conference call, and we all felt the format worked well and really allowed us to actively engage with each other and hear the emotion in each others’ voices.
Book clubs go hand-in-hand with wine and cheese. The biggest con of our setup is that we can’t share treats together. Still, we make do. We’re curious about what a meeting over Slack or in a Facebook group might look like—especially since our professional communications are mostly online. We’re planning on testing those out soon, and we’ll report back!
Typical book club challenges
We didn’t choose the book club life, the book club life chose us. But that doesn’t make it easy. Our team ran into a few classic book club problems during our first meeting.
Problem: Reading the book on time
As Beyoncé said, girls run the world. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always leave a lot of time for reading. During the time we were reading Queenie, members of our group were also planning a wedding, marathon training, raising kids, and more—not to mention our full-time jobs! We all finished reading the entire book, but it was down to the wire.
Solution: Weekly reminders
The first step in solving this problem is to not judge any members for their reading styles. If Dana wants to read the entire book in a single sitting the night before the meeting, more power to her! If Elizabeth wants to parse out a single chapter every day, we won’t pressure her to speed it up. Instead, Kelly volunteered to send our group weekly reminders to help us all stay on track before the book club meeting.
Problem: Keeping our lips sealed
Lindsey desperately wanted to create a Corgi group chat of our own to talk about Queenie before our meeting. We voted against it to try to save our comments for the meeting, but we all felt ready to burst by the time it rolled around.
Solution: Jot it down
Dana is an avid note-taker, and she suggested that we all make an effort to jot down our thoughts as we’re reading. This way we won’t forget the comments we want to share with the group, and when the meeting rolls around we’ll each have a list of topics that we’re excited to talk about.
After the pre-meeting problems were dealt with, our group faced new challenges during the meeting itself.
Problem: Knowing who wanted to speak next
The Bookish team used an online voice-only conference call for our meeting, so we weren’t able to see one another. This sometimes made it tough to tell who was gearing up to make an insightful comment, and a few of us would sometimes begin an observation at the same time.
Solution: Patience and taking turns
This one was easily solved with a little patience and some thoughtfulness about which group members hadn’t spoken in a while. It also made us want to use video at a future meeting!
Problem: Structuring the conversation
We didn’t go into this book club meeting with a list of discussion topics, so we were initially unsure of how the conversation would flow.
Solution: Start simple and take notes
Our meeting began with a simple “What did everyone think?” and Tarah quickly launched into her pent-up thoughts. Kelly and Dana had taken reading notes and were able to bring up specific themes, passages, and characters they wanted to discuss. We’re interested in using a discussion guide in a future meeting but we found this process worked well for our first!
Problem: Limiting our discussion
Time flies when you’re discussing a new book with your friends. The Bookish team easily could have talked for days, so we decided to limit ourselves to an hour for the first meeting. But we’re a chatty group of bookworms and we discovered that an hour wasn’t quite enough time.
Solution: Better structured time
Limiting ourselves to an hour-long discussion may have been optimistic, but we believe it’s possible. To do this, we’re going to focus on staying on-topic and keeping our discussion moving by lingering only on conversations where opinions vary (versus those where we were all on the same page).
We’ve covered the meeting and discussion logistics, but we know you’re all dying to hear our thoughts on the book. Here’s a look at what each member of our book club thought about our Queenie meeting.
“Our discussion of Queenie inspired me to think about my reactions as a reader: Why did some flashbacks work better for me than others? Why did I understand her actions and still find myself annoyed by them? Why did I have such an emotional reaction to her grandfather? Our discussion took my reading experience to the next level and reminded me of why I love book clubs.” —Kelly
“Queenie got me thinking about the way stories are framed. Because the novel opened with Queenie and Tom struggling in their relationship, I initially assumed that this would be a book about getting over a guy. That assumption ended up being at least partially wrong: The story arc had far more to do with Queenie’s personal growth. I wonder if I would have gotten a different initial impression had the story opened at a different point in Queenie’s life.” —Elizabeth
“While reading Queenie I found myself going through a range of emotions: amusement, surprise, frustration, sympathy, empathy, anger, and then a little relief. I left the book feeling a little helpless, as if Queenie were a new friend. But then book club happened… and I realized there was more depth to the character and story than I had concluded on my own. Discussing the book elevated it in a way that made it feel more whole and added even more humanity to it. This is why I love book club and am looking forward to the next Kelly’s Pick!” —Tarah
“Candice Carty-Williams’ powerful debut was a great book club read because Queenie made so many questionable decisions that we were able to discuss. This story was much more raw and painful than I expected based on its bright cover, but it is a timely story that reflects the issues that many women face today. While reading the novel, I found myself rooting so much for Queenie and I loved seeing her grow by the end with her friends and family by her side.” —Dana
“Queenie took me by surprise, stuck with me long after the final page, and led to some interesting discussions with fellow book clubbers. What more can you ask for in a book club pick? Even though we may not have loved every page, the thoughtful reflection and conversations that were sparked by this book were valuable and timely.” —Lindsey