Electric Company

How connecting online helps readers feel less alone.


One of the reasons I joined Instagram almost five years ago was the lack of people in my life willing to discuss — or listen to me rant on and on about — books. I’d already exhausted friends and family with overbearing, detective-like questions about the books they may or may not have read.

Though they grew tired of answering my calls, those close to me understood that I had a passion for reading and needed to “join a book club or something.”

That “something” this introvert landed on was creating a #Bookstagram account to virtually connect with book lovers around the world, which spared me the anxiety — and racing heart — of joining an in-person book club where I didn’t know anyone.

Because of my love for “virtually” connecting with fellow readers, you’d think this time of physical distancing wouldn’t be so difficult. Yet with the mounting anxiety over how the covid-19 pandemic was taking loved ones and impacting livelihoods across the country, reading suddenly felt like a difficult thing to do.

As the nation began to shut down businesses to keep communities safe and help #FlattenTheCurve, bookstores went from closing their doors to the public and offering curbside pick-up to offering online shopping only. As in-store events and book tours were canceled, I realized that, even though I’m an introvert, reading had helped me come out of my shell. I’d found new friends through my local literary community who impacted my daily life in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

Reading might be a solitary activity, but books bring us together. They build community — one that I miss being physically connected to. Luckily, in response to continuing conversations between authors and readers, bookstores and readers have stepped up to adapt to social distancing in creative ways.

I’ve found solace and felt the power of human connection through real-time book events and author interviews via Instagram’s live feature, Zoom, and Crowdcast. And one that filled me with these feelings and more was the recent El Gran Combo Virtual Party, organized by Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana: A Novel, and hosted by Word Up: Community Bookshop, The Lit Bar, and Mil Mundos Books.

This Zoom gathering featured six phenomenal authors: Cruz, Carolina de Robertis, Lilliam Rivera, Jaquira Díaz, Natalia Sylvester, and Melissa Rivero. Although we could only see each other in small squares on screens, the conversation and DJ — yes, there was a live DJ — helped me feel less isolated and more like part of a community again.

As the event ended, the DJ continued to play as authors and attendees listened to the same song and swayed together, each slowly waving goodbye as their video image left the party. For that moment, “virtually” singing and swaying as a group didn’t feel like a replacement for an in-person event. It felt like connection.

*****

A reading list for you from El Gran Combo Virtual Party:

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquira Díaz
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera
Cantoras: A Novel by Carolina de Robertis
Running by Natalia Sylvester
Dominicana: A Novel by Angie Cruz
The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel by Melissa Rivero
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon
Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera
Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera

Lupita Aquino — better known as Lupita Reads — is the co-founder and current lead of LIT on H St. Book Club at Solid State Books. She is a passionate reader active in both the local and online book community through her Instagram blog, @Lupita.Reads. You can also catch her tweeting about books over at @lupita_reads.

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