NY Times Best Books of 2019

Contactless Connections: Book Clubs & Author Events in the Time of Covid-19

Within our new world of distancing and wearing masks, we have found ways to stay connected, not least through the magic of books. Readers and writers unite, now as before, through book clubs and author…

Within our new world of distancing and wearing masks, we have found ways to stay connected, not least through the magic of books. Readers and writers unite, now as before, through book clubs and author events, with both offering a special kind of connection while apart.

Personal Connections through Book Clubs

For Linda Gonzalez, a live coach and writer who lives in Kentfield, her book group took on special meaning in her life at the onset of the shelter order. “I was sheltering in place alone, and my group was a lifeline to a group of women who appreciate the power of literature to support us in difficult times like these. Whether in person or virtual, I look forward each month to both the book and the group to ground me in the importance of diverse voices and the sisterhood of writers and readers.”

During better, more “normal” and non-pandemic times, book clubs were a respite from the chaotic ways of life. For that busy mom who’s consumed with child-related activities, or the overachieving professional who is more acquainted with the computer screen than downtime with friends, a book club has long been a great escape.

While it’s clear that the in-person intimacy of a book group is key, many book clubs have decided to maintain regular meetings during shelter in place orders, adjusting to a different kind of intimacy via Zoom.

San Francisco State University professor, Cathy Rath is a long-time member of a Marin-based book group that exemplifies choosing to adjust to the “new normal.” While she understands the need to compromise meeting platforms and appreciates the technology, overall, she was less sanguine about virtual meetings.

“Conducting our meetings this way is absolutely less appealing, how can it not be? ZOOM’s flat screen does not allow us to get cues from people’s faces as we would otherwise as three-dimensional beings.” While Rath is not sure when the group will reconvene physically, she is hoping the group agrees to an outside setting while social distancing. But, for the time being, she appreciates connecting online, limiting though it may be.

“I believe continuing the Zoom platform for our book group maintains our connection, keeps us engaged in the books we’ve selected, and gives us a chance to see each other, even if not under ideal circumstances.”

Cathy Rath

Author Events Online

It’s not just book groups that have successfully pivoted to technology during sheltering orders. Author book events have stepped up as well. Several Marin independent bookstores have switched to virtual events, with local, regional and nationally renowned authors being both interviewed, and often acting as moderators. Book Passage has been holding virtual events since early April, garnering audiences of up to 15,000 worldwide.

R.O. Kwon in conversation with Téa Obreht on May 20, 2020 at Book Passage online

A recording of Téa Obreht in Conversation with RO Kwon is available on Book Passage’s ‘Conversations with Authors’ archive.

Copperfield’s Books and Diesel Books boast similar numbers. Calvin Crosby, executive director of California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA) applauds how quickly stores adapted to the unfortunate circumstances that hit most of them financially immediately.

“It was amazing how quickly independents across the state and nation turned on a dime to embrace technology, first with social media, then pulling their customers to online commerce, and now to virtual events as a way to continue to engage those customers.”

Calvin Crosby

Crosby continued to explain how, in doing this, stores who are hurting from a fiscal standpoint at least can stay afloat until stores can reopen and become fully operational. Although most of the stores offer virtual events for free, they sell the discussed books and collect donations online. It also levels the playing field as far as author availability. Book Passage Events Director Karen West, says she’s had a hard time keeping up with requests from publishers and authors who want to participate in their virtual event series. So much so, that nearly every event includes two prominent writers and a staff moderator.

Nothing  can replace the unique experience of gathering together to hear an author you admire discussing his book and field questions from the audience. Maybe even better are the interactions between a panel of writers with the in-person community. However, technology has allowed authors and readers to continue their connections, despite virtual fatigue.

Many local clubs are open to new members, and most bookstores and libraries are happy to act as liaisons (see more resources below).

Book clubs:

Copperfield’s Books: Drop-in book clubs

Mill Valley Library book clubs (Contact email for questions)

Author events:

Book Passage Conversations with Authors

Diesel Books

Point Reyes Books

Litquake on Lockdown

Busboys and Poets (Washington DC) virtual events

Books are Magic bookstore (Brooklyn, NY) virtual events


Paula Farmer is an author event host and moderator for Book Passage, and chairwoman of the new Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the CALIBA (California Independent Booksellers Association). She curates special panel events for Book Passage that focus on timely social and political issues. Her background is in print and broadcast journalism.