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Book Clubs That Are So Much More Than Just Reading

April 14, 2016

By definition, book clubs provides a forum to discuss literature with friends or acquaintances. But it can also be so much more (or less). Below, we explore the various permutations.

1. The book club that’s actually a wine club.

The book’s real purpose is a wine coaster, and the evening doesn’t end until someone breaks a glass (or a whole bottle—already empty, phew). The host ends up rummaging through her fridge to improvise cocktails because the rosé has been kicked. (Bourbon and apple juice? Why not!) You know you’re veering into wine club territory when you avoid scheduling morning meetings for the day after, and your significant other starts referring to “book club” with air quotes.

2. The book club that’s actually a dictatorship.

Every book club needs at least one commodore to set the date or break the tie on what to read next (“It’s a tight race, but Elena Ferrante wins!”), but some clubs have an unofficial “leader” who hijacks the discussion every time. Common tangent topics: which character reminds her of her mom, why she hated the book, what she dreamed while she was reading the book, why she was too busy to finish the book. Common culprits: former English majors who miss being the star of their British literature seminar.

3. The book club that never actually meets because no one can get their act together.

Amy: “Hey guys! I know we settled on this Thursday, but I’ll be stuck at the office working on a presentation. Go ahead without me. I haven’t finished the book yet either.”
Stephanie: “Glad I’m not the only one. I have a client dinner that will be totally miserable (client is my former boss—so awkward). Wish I could be there!”
Joy: “Ugh, I’ll be at home waiting for the Time Warner guy. It was the only time slot available! Also, I forgot to buy the book.”
Molly: “Wait, what? I accidentally had this on my calendar for next Thursday. My mistake!”
Theresa: “Sounds like we should reschedule?”
Amy: “Sure! Next month is crazy for me, but how about August?”

4. The book club that only reads books that are about to be made into movies.

For members of this club, books don’t really exist until they’ve been optioned to a major motion picture studio. You spend the whole time talking about which actors should really play the main characters (“Isn’t Rachel supposed to be super frumpy? Emily Blunt is way too pretty to play her. Hollywood is shameless, blah, blah.”) Subset: book clubs that only read books that are already movies, so that everyone can complain about how the book is totally better (or just watch the movie in lieu of reading it).

5. The book club that gets awkward because two members get in a fight.

You’re not quite sure what happened in the wee hours after your last meeting, but no one wants to talk about it, and the book club email chain has gone eerily silent. [Ed. note: This book club is usually also a wine club. See #1 above.]

6. The book club that’s really about everyone’s wedding.

Every time you meet, some member has just gotten engaged and wants to hear all about how the recently married members found a good photographer (“I want the photos to feel really natural”), and isn’t everything so expensive, and yes, she has found a wedding dress, do you want to see pictures? What shoes is she going to wear? So-and-so went with flats at her wedding, and someone’s friend wore Converse! Champagne toasts all around.

7. The book club that gets competitive over food offerings.

Amy started it with the wild mushroom ravioli, made from scratch with her own two hands. Then Molly raised the bar with boeuf bourguignon (Ina Garten’s recipe, of course), which Stephanie one-upped with cornish game hens. Now it’s your turn to host, and you’re serving cheddar and Triscuits in protest.

8. The hyper-exclusive book club that is weird about letting new people in.

Taking the “club” status very seriously, members must be one of the following things: writers (or “writers”), erstwhile Classics majors, somehow involved in book publishing, or rabid disciples of an obscure Y.A. book series you’ve never heard of. They’d love to invite you, but…

9. The enormous book club where the cast of characters changes week-to-week.

Wait, is Alana Molly’s friend from high school, or Sonia’s friend from work? You can’t remember. It doesn’t matter, though, because she’ll probably only come this once. Did Hannah officially quit the club, or does she just ignore the emails? And who on earth is that girl in the red dress?

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Charlotte Cowles is a New York-based writer​ ​and editor.​ ​Her work has been published in New York Magazine,​ Harper's Bazaar,​ and Art in America. She'd always rather be at book club. Read more of Charlotte's posts.

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