7 Politically Minded Book Clubs To Inspire Your Own Reading Group
Have you ever checked out the #bookstagram on Instagram? As of publication of this year, 33 million Instagram posts have been tagged with the hashtag, and another 1.8 million have been tagged #bookclub. Social networks have become a place for readers to connect, and book clubs are getting in on the action by engaging with readers online. Both online and offline, many of these book clubs are getting political, too.
On the list below, you’ll read about eight book clubs from around the world that are using fiction and nonfiction as a jumping off point for conversations about race, reproductive rights, faith, immigration, sexual assault, and more. For some of these readers, like Steph Farnsworth of the Spec Fic Book Club, "the book club provided wonderful support where we could talk about a story that was so fraught." For others, like Martissa Williams and Hannah Betts of Books + Yoga Roc, the book club is a spark they hope inspires their members to "move into the world more aware and ready to take action."
Community and discussion are the core tenets of book clubs, and if you're interested in launching your own politically-minded group, check out these insights from people who are already doing it:
Spec Fic Book Club — Online
The Spec Fic Book Club has been around for a little over a year. Organizer Steph Farnsworth tells Bustle she aims "to introduce people to speculative fiction by marginalized authors and works that tackled different examinations of oppression."
Farnsworth says that members of The Spec Fic Book Club particularly enjoyed reading The Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, which she says is "an incredible look at racism in a futuristic setting…[with] great queer representation." While the group had good discussions about the book, "what was really great… was that we all supported and informed one another," Farnsworth says "The content was quite difficult and triggering for people, especially with the way it dealt with mental health… it was tough for some of us. The book club provided wonderful support where we could talk about a story that was so fraught."
Their book club has run into an interesting problem that’s not uncommon. "Access to books can be difficult, particularly as our group are spread across the world... people don’t have the access they require to read different texts," Farnsworth says. "This also stifles marginalized creators because it’s a barrier to getting their work out there." Libraries are a wonderful resource for people who want to join book clubs and don’t have access to new books.
The Bondi Literary Salon — Sydney, Australia
Lucy Pearson founded the Bondi Literary Salon about 10 months ago in Bondi, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Her goal was to create and nurture a book-loving community where people could talk about difficult issues like rape, domestic abuse, drug use, and assault. Recently, the group read Educated by Tara Westover, which "sparked a debate about the privilege of education, nature versus nurture, family loyalty, the concept of 'the other'... It was an animated discussion that saw much debate over the education system, how much allegiance we owe our families, faith, prejudice and privilege," Pearson tells Bustle.
The founders of the Bondi Literary Salon also aim to do good in the real world through their book club. "We recently hosted a book sale and one-off book club where all proceeds were donated to literary initiatives and street libraries in Indonesia. We have a book quiz planned for August where all money raised will be donated to a local school," Pearson says.
Ruined Readers — 15 locations around the United States
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest launched their own wide-reaching book club, Ruined Readers, in 2016 as a way to connect former volunteers with each other and to create a space for discussing social justice issues. Clubs are given two months to read each book and coordinate a meetup. Majo Lovejoy of the JVN Northwest tells Bustle that books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas sparked deep and thoughtful conversations about racial justice in the book club. Currently, the group is reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Next on their list is I Am Yours by Reema Zeman.
Saving Moses Book Club — Denver, Colorado
About six months ago, Kristina Groves, an employee at the nonprofit Saving Moses, launched the Saving Moses Book Club. A global humanitarian organization that addresses malnutrition, night care, and birth and infant aid for children five and under in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, Saving Moses's core value is “always be learning." Groves says their new book club helps them "grow as individuals and as an organization."
The book No More Heroes by Jordan Flaherty was an impactful experience for all, Groves tells Bustle. "It is a journalist’s perspective about the saviorism issue versus the power of grassroots movements after having covered many nonprofit and relief efforts... it has been both personally challenging and helpful in overall decision-making."
While the book club doesn’t have any organized activism/volunteer activities, many of the staff volunteers outside of work hours in various capacities.
Books + Yoga Roc — Rochester, NY
Martissa Williams and Hannah Betts launched Books + Yoga Roc in June 2018. "Our start was really organic. We had recently met and bonded over having similar opinions on social justice topics and our desire to create truly inclusive spaces," they tell Bustle. “Over multiple conversations we spoke about the knowledge we just happened to stumble on as adults that we felt really should have been learned in school. We talk about our feelings on how most of us live, work, and socialize in homogenized communities and rarely have the opportunity to intimately understand the perspectives of those that may appear different from us."
Their goal is to read writers of color, deepen their understanding (or bridge a lack of understanding) on topics of race, gender, sexuality, and oppression, and pair their reading with a practice, like yoga, to help participants process and embody the knowledge learned. "Our hope is through this pairing, we… are able to move into the world more aware and ready to take action," they tell Bustle.
Some of the books their group has read include Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele, the latter of which the club found to be particularly powerful because it "reflect[ed] that the political is actually deeply personal, and our oppression of Blackness in this country is deeply intersectional," the pair say.
Bad Bitch Book Club — Online, with meetups in Boston and New York City
Mackenzie Newcomb, an avid reader, often shared her reading selections with friends and family on her blog and through social media. When she launched the Bad Bitch Book Club a year ago, she expected to draw in a few other people to talk about books with. In the first month, over 100 people joined.
The club recently read and discussed Etaf Rum’s A Woman is No Man, the story of three generations of women in arranged marriages. It sparked a fascinating discussion about "the differences between respecting a culture and enabling systematic abuse...a tough conversation, but an important one," Newcomb tells Bustle.
The book club has also discussed topics like rape, abortion, LGBTQIA rights, and much more, "simply by following the content of our books," Newcomb says. "I like to think the conversations… have opened up the minds of many people."
Dudes and Books — Rochester, NY
About four months ago, Michael Huntone helped pivot his church’s book club from Christian-themed books to books focused on social justice. The existing men’s book club often discussed their roles as men/fathers/husbands, and had "built an environment of openness and trust," Huntone says. He felt this foundation was important for having meaningful conversations.
The new iteration of the club came together in response to a controversy in which a church member, a meteorologist, uttered a racial slur on TV. There was much discussion among the church, and the book club took it upon themselves to get educated about social justice issues by reading books and having tough conversations. They’re not cutting themselves or the church any slack: One of their recent books, The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby took a hard look at the complicity of the church in racism throughout the United States's history. Huntone describes it as "painful but necessary" reading. Though the group is still in its early days, they hope that long-term they can get involved with more community activism efforts and plan to expand to include women from the church as well.
Whether you’re picking up a speculative fiction novel, a memoir, or a YA book, discussing it in a book club setting can add a lot of value to the reading experience. By connecting and sharing books with one another, readers are opening their minds and hearts and building a community to take action with on the important issues of our day.