The Tale of an Online Book Club

by Renee Kimball

One of the most frequent, if not the number one, questions asked when joining a book club is, “Who is your favorite author?” My inside voice always answers, “Do you have to have just one?” If you are a reader and a book lover, one author, or even one genre, can never be enough.

Six months ago, I joined an on-line book club. I needed to change my lifelong reading patterns. I was in a rut and had no idea of what I was getting myself into but decided to make it through the first month and see what it was about. Many of the book clubs were based on physical type book clubs–everyone read the same book, made comments, and moved on to the next book. But I did find one that was different; it comprised competitive teams reading for points.

I was reading anyway–why not? It was one of the best choices I could have made.

The founders/administrators are young to middle-aged adults. The members’ ages range widely with “oldie but goodies” thrown in the mix. The approximately 1000 members are divided into specific teams with an overriding theme for each month: Superheroes DC Icons, Tricksters, Lovers (Valentines), Broadway musicals, etc. At first blush, maybe a bit silly you might think.

So exactly what does this club do differently? It is a competitive reading book club – the more you read, the more points you are awarded, and the team with the most points is the monthly winner. Sounds simple right?

Each team is provided monthly activities under two primary lists: a Criteria list and a Bonus list. There is always an author highlight –three to four authors–and you choose one to read. The Bonus point list includes activities for additional points. These are alternative choices such as cooking, crafting, watching a documentary or movie, providing weekly book reviews, posting Instagram photos daily, or creating something uniquely yours as an opportunity to garner extra points for your team.

While this may appear to be busy work or something less, it is first a community of readers striving together with reading as it core principle. It additionally is a forum for young and old readers to meet online regardless of physical location and to join together in their love of reading. The Criteria listing exposes readers to new authors, subjects, and genres, but you can read whatever you want regardless of subject matter or format.

The benefit is that, whatever you read in whatever form you receive it, the more you read, the more points your team accumulates. But, best of all, you can read for the joy of reading.

A wide variety of delivery formats are accepted, including physical books, audio books, Fanfiction, and E-books. Regardless of the reading form, the page counts equal points. Format is not important; reading is the goal. Extra points can be garnered using your smart phone by taking pictures, writing reviews, and posting. Social media is used widely among the members. Computer skill sets are used and keep members engaged on a variety of levels. (A good skill set for older readers).

What I Learned

Many established authors advise that to be a good writer, you must first be a reader. What is a better research tool than a book club to see what readers are interested in reading?

I joined this book club because I wanted more information about the current market, what was selling, who was writing, and the current subjects of interest to others. I also needed to change my reading habits and see what was popular among current book buyers. I finally had the time to explore a wide array of reading material and believed this was a good start.

Although initially frustrated with the choice of authors at times (young adult) or difficulty finding novels that met the criteria such as “Read a book with the title written in Green, Purple, or Gold”; Read a book featuring a taboo subject,” I continued signing up for another month.

(Believe me, as plain as these requirements might look at first, finding books you might want to read under these simple criteria can be a bit tricky).

I began to look forward to the announcement of each month’s winners, the next team themes, the range of highlighted authors, the criteria list and beginning the hunt for reading material that would meet that month’s focus.

It became apparent rather quickly that there is a large group of young adults and middle-aged adults who are buying and reading books in all kinds of formats and a multitude of subjects. They are sharing their love of reading in formats never imagined. Reading is alive and well despite the warning that print books are declining.

And I learned that I have missed some very worthy authors, at times by dismissing young adult literature as a reading option. Despite being categorized as “young adult,” these very same novels deal with difficult real-life issues and provide support and help in dealing with terrible events: the Holocaust, rape, drug addiction, child abuse, and dysfunctional families.

Joining has been an enlightening experience and has offered myriad alternative options to my tried and true reading habits. While the group is based online and does not physically meet, it is nonetheless a vigorous community committed to reading varied types of literature in many formats. It has also pushed me to establish reading goals, and for that I am very grateful. I believe that not only have a become a better reader over the past six months but that it has opened numerous possibilities for more confident writing in the future.

Some of the books read since November 2018

Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book

Jona Oberski, Childhood

Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Michael Cannell, Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, The Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Ruth Ware, The Lying Game

Olivia Kiernan, Too Close to Breathe : A Novel

Photos courtesy of


A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.