10 Virtual Book Clubs You Can Join Now—And How to Start Your Own

With movies, concerts, bar trivia night and other live events canceled due to the coronavirus crisis, more and more people seem to be turning to literature to pass the time. Last week, TIME published a list of 30 books to hunker down with, from The Passage trilogy to Colson Whitehead’s Zone One.

While literature on its own offers solace and distraction, it can also become the backbone of community. Over the past few weeks, many digital book clubs have sprouted up across the globe, allowing people to interact with their favorite authors, discuss thorny moral questions or just see other human faces. “It’s like the book is an excuse for people to connect and look at other people,” Mike Monteiro, the co-founder of Quarantine Book Club, says.

Here are some of the most notable book clubs that will continue to offer online events going forward. Meanwhile, TIME books editor Lucy Feldman offers some tips about how to start your own community around reading.

#TolstoyTogether

While it might be an ideal time to finally crack open Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the 1,200-page epic is a daunting task to take on alone. The author Yiyun Li is currently leading a pilgrimage through the novel on the independent publisher A Public Space’s social media channels. “I have found that the more uncertain life is, the more solidity and structure Tolstoy’s novels provide,” Li wrote in her introductory post. “In these times, one does want to read an author who is so deeply moved by the world that he could appear unmoved in his writing.”

The group has been reading about 15 pages a day and are 100 pages in. A Public Space representative estimates that 3000 people are participating across the world, from Pakistan to Brazil to Norway. Li has been startled by the level of engagement: “I thought maybe five to ten people would read with me,” she says. She chose the novel in part because she hoped its pace and length would serve as a perfect antidote to the frenzied news cycle of the moment: “It’s a book that requires a lot of patience and support from each other,” she says. “If you are reading news or social media every day, you tend to get agitated and panicky. But this book is the opposite: it’s a long retrospective to history.”

Readers have also been finding curious similarities between the novel’s plot and current events:

DC Reads

While all the physical locations of the DC Public Library are closed, the library’s book club has moved to Twitter. Over the past week, the library has hosted a discussion about Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High, about a high school student and mother who dreams of becoming a chef. The next discussion question will be posted on March 28 at 2 p.m., and then on April 4.

Quarantine Book Club

Every weekday since March 16, the Quarantine Book Club has hosted two Zoom talks daily with a variety of authors, from Myriam Gurba to Heather B. Armstrong. Mike Monteiro and Erika Hall, two designers who live in San Francisco, started the club when their own work opportunities dried up; their audience quickly ballooned beyond their circle of friends.

“People want human connection. They’re bored, they’re freaked out,” Monteiro tells TIME. “So you get on here and you talk to somebody who’s really good in their field.”

Monteiro says that over 200 people paid the $5 admission on Tuesday to listen to the graphic designer Aaron Draplin and ask him questions; the conversations have often extended past the books and toward the world at large. The Quarantine Book Club will continue twice a day for as long as people remain at home, with proceeds going to the authors as well as Monteiro and Hall’s design studio. The science fiction author and journalist Cory Doctorow arrives on April 1.

The Stranger’s Quarantine Club

The Seattle-based publication The Stranger is hosting a reading and discussion of Albert Camus’ The Plague, a Nobel Prize winner written in 1947 in which an epidemic sweeps through a town on the Algerian coast. “Its relevance lashes you across the face,” Stephen Metcalf wrote in the LA Times on Monday. In the first week of the book club, dozens of readers from Mexico City to Ann Arbor sent in pictures of their reading chairs. The club will complete the book on March 30.

Silent Book Club

Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich founded this club in 2012 as a potential outlet for introverts. “It provided a place for people to be able to get out of the house and meet up with a group—and not be forced to make awkward happy hour conversation, but to sit quietly for an hour and then chat about books,” de la Mare says. Since then, the club has grown to 260 chapters around the world in 31 countries. These chapters meet, read whatever book they’ve brought for an hour silently, and then share what they’ve learned.

De La Mare hopes that the club, which converted to virtual meet-ups a few weeks ago, can play a similar role for people struggling with living in isolation: “I hope that this provides a way to combat some loneliness,” she says. De La Mare says that in Kansas City, members have formed a tight-knit community and have even been exchanging books by leaving them on each other’s patios. Meanwhile, the chapter in Genoa, Italy, has seen a doubling in participants since the country went on lockdown.

Lez Book Club

For the past two and a half years, the Lez Book Club has been meeting in groups of 12 in pubs in London, providing a space for queer women to meet and share literature. The pivot to virtual meetings in the wake of coronavirus presents both a challenge and an opportunity for founder Eleonore Pratoussy: she wants to keep the meetings safe and intimate while also opening up her community to women around the world.

“There’s such a thirst from queer women and nonbinary people and trans people to come together,” Pratoussy says. “I’m hoping that this type of virtual book club will break the boundaries, and that any type of physical barrier will be removed so that anyone can join.”

The first virtual meetings will happen on Wednesday and Thursday evening; more information can be found by joining the group’s Instagram. “Reading a book at home alone is one of the small pleasures of life,” Pratoussy says. “Sharing your thoughts and ideas with other people about the book is another small pleasure of life.”

Rebel Book Club

Over the past five years, the Rebel Book Club has grown into a six-city organization with 1,000 active members who come to monthly nonfiction readings from London to Barcelona to Berlin. This month, they’re moving completely online to read and discuss the book #newpower with one of its authors, Jeremy Heimans. The book traces how the internet and social media have upended traditional power structures.

Ben Keene, the club’s co-founder, says that Rebel will continue hosting these monthly virtual book discussions, as well as a daily video chat called Rebel Book Pub, for the foreseeable future. Keene also says that 150 people have signed up for the club’s 14-day reading challenge, which set a goal for participants to finish a book in two weeks.

Lit Hub’s Virtual Book Channel

The Literary Hub is virtually hosting the type of programming that would ordinarily take place in bookstores around the country: book tour events, readings and Q&As. The first episode featured Kevin Nguyen talking about his debut novel New Waves—a heist narrative set inside the New York start-up world.

Translated Fiction Online Book Club

Six European publishing houses have teamed up to create this weekly Zoom series in which they take turns presenting a book from their catalogs. (The selected titles are sometimes discounted.) First up on March 26 is The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, a family drama set before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Quarantini

Eric Cervini, a historian of LBGTQ+ politics and culture, has started a book and movie club on his Instagram page that is racking up thousands of views per video. He’s currently reading and discussing James Baldwin’s 1956 Giovanni’s Room, about an American in Paris.

Start Your Own

None of these book clubs may be right for you—or maybe you’d like to form your own community. Below, TIME books editor Lucy Feldman has some tips on how to get started and lead your own discussion.

The book: You can have a good book club discussion about a bad book, but it’s always more fun when members connect to the material (and in these times, who wants to invest energy in a book that feels like homework?). For your first meeting, start with an accessible novel — one with interesting characters, which are often more fun to debate than plot points.

The discussion: The best discussions arise out of questions that are open-ended so everyone can bring their own perspectives and offer more than simple “yes, I agree” or “no, I don’t” answers. As the leader, you’ll want to come prepared with more questions than you might think necessary. It’s also nice to ask a couple members to have a question ready so you can tap them when conversation starts to lag or you notice that they’re not getting involved (this is especially helpful if you have a member on the shy side who wants to participate but feels more comfortable knowing in advance what they’re going to say).

Encourage people to share their personal perspectives, but try to guide everyone to use “I” statements so they don’t accidentally alienate other members—and be prepared to mediate if people disagree.

And finally, remember that the most important thing right now is to bring people together and lift each other up. If you lose track of the topic at hand, well, that probably means you’re having the conversation you need to be having right now.

 

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Meet the 101-year-old who was born on a ship during the 1918 flu pandemic and just beat coronavirus

Angelina Friedman has superhuman DNA

Angelina Friedman survived cancer, miscarriages, internal bleeding, sepsis and now not one, but two pandemics. More than 100 years after living through the 1918 influenza pandemic, the 101-year-old woman just beat coronavirus.

 

An administrator at the Mohegan Lake, New York, nursing home where Friedman lives said Friedman is back to her old self and celebrating life as if nothing ever happened.
“It also just goes to show how much the world needs hope that you can beat this at 101,” Amy Elba told CNN.
Friedman’s daughter, Joanne Merola, told CNN affiliate WPIX that her mother is a survivor.
“She and my dad had cancer at the same time. She survived. He didn’t,” she said.
After beating coronavirus at 101 years old, Friedman started looking for some yarn so she could knit.

In 1918, Angelina Sciales (now Friedman) was born on a ship that was transporting immigrants from Italy to New York City. It was in the midst of the 1918 pandemic. It’s not believed that the baby contracted the disease.
Her mother died giving birth, and her two sisters helped her survive until they could reunite with their father in New York, where they lived in Brooklyn, Merola told WPIX.
One of 11 children, Friedman is the last surviving.
“She is not human,” Merola said. “She has superhuman DNA.”
Now a resident of the North Westchester Restorative Therapy & Nursing Center, Friedman battled yet another pandemic.
“She had gone out to the hospital for a procedure and when she returned she had tested positive,” Elba told CNN.
Merola told the affiliate her mother isolated in her room and ran a fever on and off for several weeks as she battled the coronavirus until April 20, when she tested negative.
Nurses called Merola and said Friedman was doing great. She was eating again and looking for yarn to crochet with, they told her.
“She is a mover and a shaker,” Elba said. “She’s a big knitter and she makes all kinds of things and gives them away to visitors.”
The staff threw a big birthday party for Friedman’s 101st birthday, and last year she was crowned prom queen.
Friedman was named Prom Queen at the nursing home.

“She’s super active. You couldn’t believe it for her age,” Elba said. “Still doing her leisure activities probably that she’s done forever.”
Like many other facilities, Elba said, they have set up alternative means for patients to remain in contact with their families.
Due to a back injury, Merola hasn’t been able to visit her mother since February, but she doesn’t live far from home. Because her mother is nearly deaf, they can’t speak on the phone.
As prom season approaches, Elba said that although the schools might not get a dance, Friedman is certainly going to have hers — and hopes she will be named prom queen for the second year in a row.

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Yale Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: Lockdown Protesters Resemble “Child Soldiers” and “Urban Gangs”

Dr. Bandy X. Lee says Trump is “practicing ‘total authority’ and putting his armed troops in the streets”

Yale psychiatrist has warned that pro-Trump lockdown protesters, who exhibit similar psychology as “child soldiers,” could quickly turn into “armed troops in the streets” if the president loses his re-election bid.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who has mostly taught at Yale Law School, said the armed protests were a natural evolution of the loyalty President Trump demands from his supporters. Many of these protests have evidently been organized by deep-pocketed groups allied with the president.

Lee, the author of the textbook “Violence,” has been sounding the alarm about the danger posed by the president for years. She edited “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” after his election, with a group of fellow mental health professionals. The book’s authors recently started a chat series entitled “Is America in an Abusive Relationship With Its President?”

Lee has also served as a project group leader for the World Health Organization Violence Prevention Alliance. She told Salon that Trump’s recent call to “liberate” Democratic-led states was a dog whistle to his core supporters.

“Subconsciously, it is a loyalty test for the people,” Lee said. “In Africa, where I did some ethnographic work, child soldiers would be recruited and made to kill a family member to demonstrate their allegiance to the government and not to the family. Similarly, in urban gangs in America, one may be challenged to kill a police officer to prove one’s willingness to uphold gang rules over societal rules.

“When Donald Trump suggests that the virus be taken as a ‘hoax’, that people gather in churches or that people protest for their own sacrifice, he is actually testing people’s loyalty to the ‘laws’ of his mind over the laws of nature, or even impulse for survival. The more he abuses them, the greater their devotion grows, since the psychological cost of admitting their mistake is ever higher — and so it becomes easier to dig a well of unreality than to see the obvious truth.

“We are now entering my specialty: public health approaches to violence prevention, and how to stop epidemics of violence before they happen,” Lee added. “Individual violence is hardly predictable, since even the most violent individuals are not violent most of the time, but societal violence is entirely predictable. Prevention is still hard to talk about, since we must act before we see things unfold, but it is highly effective. It is true of pandemics, and it is true of mental health. We can enlighten ourselves through science and prevent catastrophes before they occur.”

Lee spoke with Salon about the president’s response to the coronavirus and his embrace of protesters calling for an end to social distancing restrictions. Her views represent only those of the World Mental Health Coalition, of which she is president.

Trump has tried to play it both ways, arguing that his lockdown guidelines saved millions of lives while calling for an end to the lockdowns. How does this cognitive dissonance affect the public during a confusing and scary crisis?

Having no core but wishing to avoid accountability, he often tries to cover all grounds. But the psychological effect on the public will eventually be the most harmful — not the devastating pandemic, the economic hardship or even the incompetence itself, but how he hypnotized and misled the public to cover up his ineptitude. To lose our collective mind, because an untreated disturbed person in an influential position has infected a third of the population with his distorted worldview, all to buttress his fragile sense of self, will be a great trauma for the nation to emerge from. His supporters will be the most severely traumatized, if they are able to wake up at all.

How will we cope with the fact that a mentally compromised president caused a devastating pandemic by eliminating a global response system only two years earlier, removed CDC experts in China just months earlier, caused an overwhelming majority of deaths by refusing to respond sooner, and worsened suffering and deaths by continuing to push wrong information? How do we recover from the oppression that states and health care workers had to suffer because the leader who was supposed to protect them obstinately withheld lifesaving supplies, watched with glee as those who did not praise him sufficiently suffered most, and created conditions where they had to compete with one another for equipment, when we were all supposed to be in this together? This is without counting the enormous mental health effects from enduring the extreme shelter-in-place measures that became necessary because of his mismanagement, when we are social animals. And this will only have been the medical side.

How will we cope with his economic destruction, which seems to have set in motion something far worse than the Great Depression, because he depleted all economic infrastructure while trying to balloon numbers for his re-election, even before the pandemic? How will we live with ourselves as we increasingly learn of a future that has been destroyed because he chose to bail out big businesses, including his own, while throwing pennies to working people as he asked them to worship him, which is what his name on the checks is about? Most developed nations are supporting worker salaries, to fuel economy and business as well as to help ordinary people — whose entrusted money the government is using. Human-caused injury is ultimately the most traumatizing.

People whom sociopaths have deceived and exploited often come away with a feeling that their soul has been hollowed out. They have witnessed the extremes of which humanity is capable.

What is your reaction to the growing number of protests against public health measures around the country?

You may have noticed that the more the president abuses his “base,” the more they idolize him and obey what he says. He frames risking lives in service of him, so as to prop up his ruined economy and increase his re-election prospects, as “liberation” — and they come out in defiance of their own protection, demanding “choice.” He is practicing his “total authority” and putting his armed troops in the streets. We would be mistaken to believe he will leave, or even let a losing election happen in the first place. Abuse of the mind is the worst kind, for you make people do what you wish against their own interests, and even extreme physical abuse becomes possible. He is not only getting away with shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, but a whole massacre.

Why do you think otherwise intelligent people are sometimes drawn to rhetoric suggesting the threat of a highly infectious and deadly virus is overhyped or even a “hoax”?

Mental symptoms do not discriminate between levels of intelligence. What we are seeing is what mental health experts warned would happen if we left a severely impaired person in an influential position without treatment, and what others have described as a cult. All the structures are in place for a personality cult, certainly, including the Fox News propaganda system, the pressure to conform from ever-growing cult members, and the insulation from facts that the president himself encourages by calling real news “the enemy.”

But what I find most insidious is the contagion of symptoms: prolonged exposure to the president alone causes you to “catch” his worldview, and even the healthiest, soundest people turn “crazy,” as if afflicted with the same condition as the president. This is a known phenomenon I have encountered a great deal from working in underserved settings. It is interchangeably called “shared psychosis,” “folie à plusieurs” or “induced delusional disorder.” The cure is removal. Then, quite dramatically, an entire afflicted family, street gan or prison cell-block that seemed almost “possessed” returns to normal. Politicians seem to keep waiting for the public to propel his removal, but in reality removal will justify removal: Remove the president first, and the people will follow.

What should the general public’s response be when we see relatively small groups like these protesters spread misinformation that can have potentially deadly consequences?

Like cigarette smoking, shooting rampages and reckless driving, “freedoms” that endanger lives and curtail others’ freedoms are not legitimate freedoms but a public health concern. People should fight for their legal rights. They should demand access to information as well as to expertise, and correct intervention. When experts call out abnormal signs, it is not a diagnosis but important information. When Dr. Li Wenliang of China detected a SARS-like virus, his observations were important and should have been heeded, not silenced. It is not up to mental health experts to say how it is to be done, but it is our responsibility to say what must be done, based on our best assessment. Our prescription is removal. Since issuing this prescription a month ago, I have repeatedly written about it and am waiting for the authorities to respond. And as with a viral pandemic, time translates to lives.

 

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