Gen Z and Millennials are putting their own spin on book clubs

Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN | 2/23/2024, 3:48 p.m.
From Dua Lipa to “silent” book clubs, Millennials and Gen Z are joining book clubs as a way to socialize.
Independent bookstores are mounting a comeback. Mandatory Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack via AP via CNN Newsource

From Dua Lipa to “silent” book clubs, Millennials and Gen Z are joining book clubs as a way to socialize.

Book club event listings grew 24% in the United States in 2023 from the previous year, according to ticketing platform Eventbrite. Meetup saw a 10% increase in book club listings.

CNN Video

People are tired of dating apps. Here's what they're doing instead

Dating app satisfaction is down, leading more users to find creative ways to meet people. CNN's Nathaniel Meyersohn reports on the latest trend in love. Source: CNN

Many of these book clubs are not the stodgy ones of old, however, featuring wine and crackers in a host’s living room. Book club organizers and members are creating new gatherings to talk about books at dating events, breweries and on group runs. Social media is also helping lead younger readers to new genres and in-person communities built around reading. #BookTok was TikTok’s most popular community, outpacing #CarTalk and #MovieTalk.

The growing popularity of book clubs reflects a renewed interest in events and experiences in-person following the isolation of the pandemic, as well as growing fatigue with endless time on screens.

“Book clubs are moving away from someone’s house to meet at different restaurants or as a way to try new places in a city and connect over a book,” said Teri Coan, brand manager at Once Upon a Book Club, a monthly book-subscription box with gifts designed around things mentioned in the book of choice.

Niche book clubs are on the rise. Themed book club events, such as queer book clubs, saw an 82% increase in attendance in 2023, according to Eventbrite, while attendance at silent book clubs increased 23%. Silent book club members gather in public at bars, cafes, bookstores, and libraries simply to read – typically anything they choose.

Eventbrite is also seeing growth in romance book clubs, dating event book clubs and evening book club running groups, such as Read & Run Chicago.

“I have noticed more people talking about creating or joining book clubs in the last two years,” said Ashley Petty, 40, who signed up for a book club for the first time last year in Decatur, Illinois. “Now that we’re a couple years out of the pandemic, I think a lot of people are looking more to get out and rebuild community ties that we couldn’t interact with as much.”

Petty’s book club is organized by the local public library. The club, Books & Brews, meets monthly at a brewery. Around 20 people typically come.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “Now we’re all very friendly and there are a handful of us that stay after to have a drink and chit-chat.” They are planning to meet up for trivia nights next.


Social media is spurring interest in books and book clubs among younger readers.

The booming #BookTok and #Bookstagram culture on TikTok and Instagram have been credited with introducing younger people to different titles and boosting sales at physical bookstores. Gen-Z favorite Dua Lipa even has a book club. (Her recommendation for February is “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” a novel by by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini.)

BookTok, which people use to describe their reading experiences and look for what to read next, has more than 220 billion views.

Authors can get huge, unexpected boosts from TikTokers discovering their work. Fantasy, romance and young adult novels enjoy especially large BookTok followings, such as “A Court of Thrones and Roses” and “Throne of Glass” series by Sarah J. Maas, the “Shadow and Bone” series by Leigh Bardugo, and emotional romances like “It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover. The BookTok effect is so potent that stores like Barnes & Noble keep lists of books that have gone viral on the app.

Print book sales dropped 3% last year, but were still 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to Circana. The book market shrank last year because of lower kids’ book sales.

But adult fiction in the US has grown for five consecutive years, according to Circana.

Teri Coan said that in-person book clubs are emerging from trends on #Bookstagram and other social platforms.

The rise of book clubs also comes as independent bookstores have seen growth in recent years. More than 250 independent shops opened in 2022, the latest year available, according to the American Booksellers Association. Many experienced sales above pre-pandemic levels, according to the organization.

Some experts say anger about the control of Amazon over the book industry — Amazon controls more than half of print book market — is driving some people to shop at local bookstores.

“People are coming back to physical books in a way they didn’t,” Coan said. “Gen Z has beef with Amazon and tries to avoid it whenever possible. That’s what’s driving people to indie book stores.”

Barnes & Noble has also mounted a comeback. The chain expanded in 2023 for the first time in a decade, opening 30 new stores. In 2024, Barnes & Noble plans to open 50 stores.