Reading in a time of crisis (or, 10 ways to run a virtual book club)

4 minute read

Whether you’re panicked or calm, pretty much everyone is impacted by the measures being taken to tackle the Coronavirus (aka Covid-19) outbreak. Ourselves, we’re mostly in the calm bucket - there are plenty of people at risk, and stern measures need to be taken, but we will weather this and come out stronger on the other side, especially if we don’t panic (as a friend of mine says, “don’t panic - I tried and it didn’t help!”).

In the meantime, if you are self-quarantining or just practicing social distancing, staying in touch via a virtual book club is a great way to fight the isolation. To quote Scientific American:

While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.

A virtual book club is a great way to fight isolation, and reading has any number of positive benefits, especially when compared to fretting over events one cannot control. Pick a great book (below are a few suggestions), invite some friends and co-workers, and start building better relationships through books with a virtual book club.

Here’s 10 easy ways to do a virtual book club - no meeting in person, just great books and great conversations.

  1. As we are the creators of Bookship, a social reading app, designed expressly for this purpose, we’ll mention it first. Bookship lets you share your reading experiences with friends, family, and co-workers in a private, mobile-friendly chat experience. Plus you can read classic eBooks for free! A quick video here:, download the (free!) app here:
  2. Reddit. Have a look at /r/Books, the primary Reddit forum for Books. You’ll find lively, opinionated, dare-we-say cantankerous public discussions people’s favorite books. There’s a book club of the month group there too:
  3. Zoom. We think Zoom is currently the best of the video chat apps. Check it out here: You can run 45-minute video chats for free for up to 100 people. (UPDATE: Zoom does have some security / privacy issues. Here’s some tips for keeping your meeting secure).
  4. Skype. The grand-daddy of video conferencing. Send your reading buddies an invite, and chat once a week (or once a day!) and see how the reading is going. Download and get started here:
  5. Slack. A lot of us use Slack to stay in touch with both workgroups, as well as professionally-related non-work groups. Slack can be a great way to chat about what you are reading. An intro to Slack is here:
  6. iMessage - a simple video chat from your phone with your BFF might be all you need, to stay in touch and keep your reading going.
  7. Join Reese Witherspoon’s online book club and discussion group:
  8. Try out Andrew Luck’s book club:
  9. Join Emma Watson’s book club and discussion groups on Goodreads.
  10. Last but not least, you can find the OG of bookclubs, Oprah’s Book Club, in discussion group form on Goodreads:

OK, a bonus option is to use Facebook groups. While many people find Facebook and the associated privacy issues a concern, and not everyone is on Facebook, it is a broadly accepted and easy-to-use platform where people can stay in touch.

Last bonus option, just Google “Quarantine Book Club” for a bunch of options.

OK, so what to read? In times like this, we recommend a few themes:

  1. Self Improvement. Times like these are a great time to focus on making a better you. If you’re in management (or even if not!), we’ve been enjoying and learning from Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, a gift from our friends at Flybridge. If you are looking to improve your motivation and start executing on your dreams, I love Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way (for goodness sake this one is $1.99 on Amazon!!!!)
  2. Escape. Times like these are also a great time to escape the real world for a bit. I just finished Emily Wilson’s translation of the greatest adventure story of all time, The Odyssey, and it is high adventure, compellingly told. Reading a classic was never so easy. Or get Wind, Sand, and Stars, Antoine de St.-Exupéry’s grand philosophical adventure novel of his flying exploits, and miraculous survival of a crash landing in the Saharan (you may know St.-Exupéry as the author of The Little Prince). Wind, Sand, and Stars is one of the best books I have ever read.
  3. Biographies. Studying the lives of amazing people is always worthwhile. Maybe the biography of Steve Jobs? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences, telling the tale of how Henrietta’s cells, taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. I’m personally a fan of the semi-autobiographical Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Gregory Hay’s translation reads easy, and the subject matter provides a calming approach life that’s both timely and timeless.

Whereever you are, and whatever your interests, there’s never been a time to read, and as we like to say, “reading is better with friends”.