Away from campus, students connect to each other through virtual book clubs

Wilson Chapman, The Monthly Editor


After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sherlina Chauhan (Weinberg ‘19) was looking to find ways to bond with her friends remotely. Thinking about starting a book club, she sent out a tweet asking if people were interested.

“I just made a tweet like, ‘Oh, would anyone want to start an actual book club with me?” Chauhan said. “And I thought like five or six people would be like ‘Yes, I want to do it,’ but, I think there’s almost 20 people in it who want to do it.”

With Illinois currently under a stay-at-home order, book clubs across the state have found themselves transitioning their meetings to Zoom. For Northwestern students, book clubs have become an opportunity to find and retain a sense of community with classes moved off campus.

Chauhan got the inspiration to start her book club, which consists of recent Northwestern graduates as well as students still enrolled at the school, after she and one of her friends read a romance novel together about a month before isolation began. Chauhan enjoyed the experience of reading along with another person and having discussions about what was occurring in the book, so she decided to try and do something similar with another group. The group meets about once a month via Zoom to discuss the book they read in an informal discussion.

Chauhan said in selecting books to read, the focus is on lighter fare, such as YA novels, as opposed to overly heavy work. Because of the effects that isolation is having on everybody’s mental health, Chauhan wanted the books that the group reads to help people take their minds off of everything that’s been happening.

“When I was little and I would read, it would take me out of the world and it would put me into whatever I was reading and it felt good for even 20 minutes at a time,” Chauhan said. “This is a good time to do that, especially since we all have time and we’re all feeling a lot of different anxieties and frustrations.”

Chauhan isn’t the only Northwestern student starting a book club to remain connected with their peers. Shortly before the quarter started, Communication freshman Kara Toll organized a remote book club for her dorm, Shepard Residential College.

Toll currently serves as social chair for the dorm and wanted to find ways to keep the community of the dorm active in spite of classes moving online and most students returning home. Toll had wanted to organize a book club for awhile, and she figured that it would be good to do it now, while people have more time to read than they usually do. Toll said around 13 people are currently involved in the book club.

People interested in the book club voted on a genre for the group to focus on, and the most popular genre was contemporary fiction. For their first book, the SMQ book club read “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018. The group has used the app OverDrive, which connects to people’s library districts, allowing them to obtain a free ebook copy of the novel.

Toll said she thinks book clubs are the perfect quarantine activity because while social distancing forces everyone to remain inside, books allow people to gain a greater understanding of the world around them. As the quarantine continues, she said she hopes the book club can offer the members of her dorm a respite from the challenges they face in the pandemic.

“Reading books is incredibly important because exposing yourself to new perspectives and stories can really enhance your understanding of the world around you,” Toll said. “But I think right now, it’s even more important to stay connected because I think we’re all kind of trapped in our own little bubble for the foreseeable future, so I think being able to escape that a little bit is a really valuable thing.”

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Twitter: @wilsonchapman6

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