When you’re reading a great book, there’s a special thrill to spotting it in the wild. At last! Please, person on the Metro, indulge in a lengthy, nuanced discussion about that thing the protagonist did in the final chapter. Washington’s vast ecosystem of book clubs takes the chance out of such rare but satisfying encounters: Dozens of options can connect readers interested in every genre, from the classics to the classically criticized. Social groups are a hallmark of some of the region’s indie stores, but for bookworms who forge their own path (and like the potential for more personal interaction), here are five local groups popular on the digital platform Meetup to consider joining this year:
If you devour your literature like you do finely cooked meals, Auja Little gets you. She launched her club a few years ago, inspired after reading “Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books,” Cara Nicoletti’s literary-themed cookbook. Each month, the group digs into a work that is, even peripherally, connected to food. Past selections include “The Edible Woman” by Margaret Atwood and “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones. To be expected: Don’t eat before the meetings. The club’s 30-ish active members discuss each title at a restaurant that represents the plot or author; expect to deliberate over an Irish writer at an Irish pub, for example.
In October 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.” Hordes of feminists responded by adopting the phrase as a rallying cry, including Devin Flores, who co-founded this D.C. book club in early 2017. During its first year, the group — which quickly amassed more than 1,500 members — read titles off the New York Times bestseller list. The next year, members “took an overt feminist approach,” Flores says, “and purposefully selected titles by women who were activists or known as feminists, or books with themes that lent themselves to that kind of conversation.” To keep meetings small enough for engaging group dialogue, Flores caps attendance at 30 members via an online RSVP process. This upcoming year’s reading list was culled from members’ suggestions and includes “The Mere Wife” by Maria Dahvana Headley (February); “Women, Race & Class” by Angela Davis (March); and “Paradise” by Toni Morrison (April). Plan to discuss them over a couple of glasses of champagne.
If you crave stodgy, pretentious literary critiques, Vijay Paradkar warns, this probably isn’t the group for you. His club meets twice monthly, once to discuss a fantasy selection — alternating between traditional and urban/contemporary fantasy — and again to review a classic or modern sci-fi title. Planned reads for February are “The Queens of Innis Lear” by Tessa Gratton and “Semiosis” by Sue Burke. Paradkar, who’s been running the group since 2011, particularly loves the sense of community: Members have discussed more than 200 books together, plus “watched movies, thrown Halloween parties and karaoke nights, attended conventions, taken trips and raised around $58,000 for charity.” Seems worth beaming into.
LuJack Martinez’s club delivers a do-over for anyone who missed out on the classroom-favorite classics. “I thought, well, I can dwell in my regret, or I can do something about it,” says Martinez, who launched the group when he moved to the capital from California about a year ago. The February selection was “1984” by George Orwell, followed by Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” in March and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” in April. Martinez sends discussion questions to group members ahead of each meeting and draws on his background leading Bible studies to oversee what he describes as lively, productive conversations. The meetups, at District restaurants, have drawn readers ranging in age from their early 20s to their mid-70s.
Rabeeta Farooque used to conceal the covers of the romance novels she read in public; one never knows when a judgy literary critic is hovering nearby. Since launching Smart Women, Trashy Romance Novels a year ago, however, she’s owned her affection for the genre. Yes, they’re quick, light reads; no, that doesn’t mean “bad.” Farooque has cultivated a 200-reader-strong club that convenes monthly after reading a novel of each member’s choosing that fits certain criteria; last month, for example, they discussed regency romances over high tea. The group analyzes hot topics that overlap with the genre, such as dubious sexual consent and racism, and hosts fun competitions: Bring the most ridiculous romance cover, the most outrageous passage, the best euphemism for the, uh, male sword.