UK in the midst of a boom in book clubs as gen Z’s hobbies change | Books

UK in the midst of a boom in book clubs as gen Z’s hobbies change | Books

The UK is experiencing a boom in book clubs, according to new data from event listing companies.

Book club listings on the ticketing site Eventbrite increased by 350% between 2019 and 2023 – a “much stronger” growth than the overall increase in UK-based listings over the same period. Between 2022 and 2023 alone, book club listings on the site rose by 41%.

Another event listing site, Meetup, reported a 14% increase in the number of RSVPs to book clubs between January 2023 and January 2024, compared with a 4% increase in RSVPs for all UK-based events.

The trend coincides with the launch of book clubs by young celebrities, including singer Dua Lipa and model Kaia Gerber, as well as the rise of #BookTok – the corner of TikTok where readers share recommendations. Victoria Okafor, who co-runs the book club Between2Books, said that the heightened interest in reading may be partly due to a generational “shift in hobbies”, with nightclubs “getting less traction from gen Z” as young people turn to other ways to spend their free time.

The pandemic may have played a role in boosting the popularity of book clubs, suggested Okafor. Many “were forced to slow down and pick up or reignite hobbies”, and online book clubs provided a platform to connect with others while isolated. “People were starved of connection during the lockdowns,” said Taragh Godfrey, who runs Brunch Book Club. “Everybody has recognised the importance of connection.”

Virtual book clubs also “require less commitment as you just have to log on rather than turn up to a specific location,” said Okafor. “If an online book club does begin to hold in-person events, you may feel more inclined to attend in person if you’ve been enjoying it over Zoom.”

Book clubs have opened up a “safe space” in communities, particularly for women, said Godfrey. “Sports teams have dominated the community space for a while, and not everybody is that way inclined. It’s a very different kind of culture.” Godfrey’s club “twins serious discussion with non-serious frivolity”, and conversations about the chosen book can also “segue into real life issues and discussions about being lonely in London”.

Brunch Book Club has seen a sharp uptick in attenders. Since the club started in 2019, “there’s been a steady growth”, but this year has been “crazy”, with tickets selling out “very, very quickly”, said Godfrey.

Book clubs have changed in recent years: “There was a more typical ‘go to somebody’s house and drink buckets of wine’ club,” said Godfrey, but clubs now have more variety, facilitating trips and activities, too. Indeed, Godfrey’s club offers brunches and cocktail hours, while Between2Books organises trips to exhibitions and the theatre. Ahead of Godfrey’s brunch, there is an online discussion, running through questions about the chosen book, during which time some attenders get ready for the brunch. “Some people will have towels on their heads and be doing their skincare,” she said.

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Many of the book clubs listed on Eventbrite carry specific themes – Sheffield Feminist Book Club, Bring Your Baby Book Club, Crime and Nourishment Book Club & Social Dining Group, Modern Chinese Literature Online Book Club.

Okafor’s club, Between2Books, focuses on books by writers traditionally excluded from the canon. She began seeking out such stories “embarrassingly late”, she said. Reading authors of colour “brought back a joy to my reading that came from not only seeing elements of myself and culture reflected in novels but also reading stories that could be funny or empowering as opposed to the narratives of struggle that can often surround stories of people of colour”, she said. The variety of books “makes reading and discussion so rich and I think that’s what attenders are drawn to”.

Social media may be helping with the visibility of book clubs, too, said Okafor. “People may be looking for a book club or come across your page accidentally, but from there people have the knowledge to attend should they wish. I think this makes a big difference compared with just hearing things from word of mouth.”

Most Eventbrite book club events held between 2019 and 2023 took place in London, followed by Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, and Edinburgh. One in every five book club listings this year is taking place online, with just under two-thirds free to attend.

“People are really proud of their clubs,” said Godfrey. “So I guess it is not too dissimilar to a sports club. We’re doing the sport of reading!”

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