Now's the time to start a socially distant, low-maintenance book club

How to make it happen—and five books to get you started.

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A book is like a movie, but in your head. It's like a tweet, but longer. - PAUL HANAOKA PHOTO
  • Paul Hanaoka photo
  • A book is like a movie, but in your head. It's like a tweet, but longer.
We had tried starting a book club before. Three times. Or was it five? Probably six if you include the podcast about books that never got off the ground.

All I knew was I wanted this time to be different: For it to actually work and for my friend and I to get back to spending time tearing apart plot points and themes, like we did back in second year when the world was just about reading dystopic fiction and staying up all night to write papers.

So, when I saw an article from one of my favourite corners of the internet promising a new hack to help you read more, I thought "Hmm, this could be it." Spoiler alert? I was right.

The premise is simple: Start a Google Sheet and fill in a bunch of titles you've been meaning to read but haven't gotten around to yet. Add the corresponding author names in a second column. If you really want to go hard, you can even search the book in the public library's database and save the link for Future You whenever it comes time to get into that particular book. (Pro tip: if the title you want isn't there, here's how you can request the library buys it.)
I filled my list with about 20 tomes, with a goal of reading a book every two weeks, but there's no minimum or maximum amount required.

A snippet of my Google Sheet list.
  • A snippet of my Google Sheet list.

Here's where it gets fun: Share the document with as many friends as you want, creating a separate tab in the master sheet for each person. They can then fill in whatever books they want to read, and you can chat about it all right in the doc.

It's a sort of pact that, while you're all reading whatever you want (let's be real: the main bore of regular book clubs is suffering through someone else's pick), you'll egg each other on in this good habit while also relishing the act of reading, together.

We went a step farther than the original article stated and made a matching Facebook group for further discussion. Together, the doc and the group allow people room to recommend books and discuss what they're reading in their medium of choice. Some of our roughly 15 members are in the Facebook group almost daily, while others use the doc exclusively. Some love updating us on new plot points in what they're reading. Others never post but use the space as motivation to read. Posting a selfie with a finished book in the Facebook group feels frivolous, yes, but also fun marker of progress.
Bonding with friends and friends-of-friends.
  • Bonding with friends and friends-of-friends.
As of late March, I've read four and a half books—which is already more than I did in all of 2019.  I feel like a missing part of my personality has been reclaimed. A corner of my brain reawakened as I finally devour writings by Joan Didion and biographies of Egyptian queens.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is what this has done for my friendships: A layer of richness and trove of new conversational topics has opened up between all of us. Conversations—be they online, on the phone or IRL—about what we're reading quickly grow into something deeper almost every time. And the odd time they don't? I still have another certified bookworm I can gush about my latest read with without worrying they're bored to death.
Finally, a place to be openly excited about what we are reading.
  • Finally, a place to be openly excited about what we are reading.
So what are you waiting for? Create your own doc. Here are five picks to get you started.

If you love memoirs, try Daughter of Family G by Ami McKay. A multi-generational family drama that grapples with universal themes of illness and love, you can read more about the book here—and place a hold for the ebook and audiobook versions at the library here.

Feel affirmed and seen—or gain a better understanding of systemic oppression—by reading Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In. As Cole told The Coast in February,  his debut book is "for anybody who longs for racial justice." Reserve the audiobook and ebook at the library here.

Looking for a novel that builds a world for you to get lost in? Well, what about three? That's what Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels delivers in his book The Wagers. Michaels described the book to The Coast as a "magical heist novel about luck, art, labour and the meaning of life—but as much as it’s a think-y book, one of my antagonists is a literary award-winner who won the Tim Hortons Prize. I want it to feel like Vonnegut in how it handles the absurd and the serious." Get your ebook reserved through the library here or listen to the audiobook now thanks to the library's no-waiting, no-cost service for audiobooks and e-books, hoopla.

Also, it's about time you got into poetry. The wildflower word-vines of poet Arielle Twist are the perfect place to start: "I'm writing about love and writing about loss and writing about grief," Twist told The Coast last February. "Grief of my body, grieving men, grieving my family and grieving for the land—grieving for a lot of things."  Her book Disintegrate / Dissociate is available from the library on hoopla, an online service that lets you borrow e-books without the wait. And you can also get the book in physical form when the library reopens to the public, so go ahead and get in queue if that's your thing.

And, want to learn more about complex themes like fatphobia, Blackness and identity in all the ways it presents itself—all in a way that feels manageable and doesn't read like a textbook? Get your hands on Andre Fenton's Worthy of Love, a Young Adult story about an overweight kid's tumultuous journey through high school that's so good, not-so-young-adults can't put it down. "I think that growing up while writing these characters helped me to learn a lot about myself and I use those life lessons in the stories," Fenton told The Coast. Get in line for the ebook here.

Want more? Check out this roundup of last fall's best local book releases.

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