Mental health experts all over the world are raising concerns about the effect that COVID-19 could have on our mental health. Even if you’re an introvert like me, the prolonged isolation and reduced social interaction still has a negative impact.
Other concerns include the stress and fear of being infected, the trauma of worrying about or losing loved-ones, job loss, limited access to supportive resources for people with mental illness or addiction, and the potential for increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders, and suicide.
Before you despair too much there are also positive effects to the “new normal”. It’s just a matter of rethinking our priorities, finding creative solutions to problems, investing in our own self-learning and developing a deeper sense of empathy and altruism. One way to achieve all these is by reading more, and better yet, reading with other people.
Start a video based book club
It’s a well-known fact that books stimulate our minds and boost well-being, and with all of us spending more time at home, books are more important than ever to keep us connected and to inspire hope. Nearly one in three people in the UK are turning to books to help them through lockdown, according to a new survey by The Reading Agency, and reading has surged in many households since lockdown.
Katy Markland, a physician deep in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic in Miami says, “I’ve kept emotionally afloat by a monthly Zoom book club with my close college friends. We’re hundreds of miles apart, and it’s been a welcome reprieve to have my favourite people virtually sharing literary reflections and laughter in these strange times.”
How do you start a book club? Here are some basics.
Book club guidelines
Establish a set of basic rules, even if they change over time. Your guidelines should answer the following questions:
Seven is the sweet number
You’ll want about seven or eight people at each meeting. Fewer than that means each person has to say quite a lot.
To avoid devolving into too much non-book-related socialising, invite some people who are not already friends. Consider including a few devil’s-advocate types, or at least those with divergent tastes. “You get the best discussions when people actively disagree,” suggests David Peplow, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, who has done multiyear ethnographies of book clubs.
The best kick-off
Start meetings by going around the screen, letting each person share their reaction to the reading.
Rotate who chooses the book.
Normally you can vary your venues, but while we’re all trying to stay safe at home as much as possible, use Google Meet, Teams or Zoom. Meetings should not go on for longer than two hours, and try and spend at least 45-minutes discussing the book.
Book club benefits
Don’t try to talk like an English professor (unless, of course, you are one). Non-academic reading lets you experience literature in an emotionally raw way, enabling you to conflate real life with the text (literary theorists call this “mimetic reading”). A book club can become a “sort of group therapy, a way for readers to collectively process their lives,” Peplow added. After studying hours of recorded book club meetings, it became clear to Peplow that participants were grappling to understand themselves more deeply. “Reading and talking about fiction gives people a way of processing things that happened in their lives in a relatively safe space,” Peplow adds.
Found and Lost will be out soon. Be sure to put it on your Book Club #TRL.
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