Creative and cool book clubs in Britain and the States

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Anna Brech
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You can hardly breathe for a book club these days, but some stand out from the crowd. While once upon a time warm wine and crackers sufficed, now any reading group worth its salt will add in a different dimension - whether that's a particular type of book, or a certain way of reading it.

The bar for creativity has been set with a gathering of topless bookworms across the pond, with other clubs following suit in the adventure stakes. Take Emily's Book Club, which offers members a therapeutic stroll across Hampstead Heath as a backdrop to literary discussions, or the Nostalgia Book Club devoted to childhood fiction in Minneapolis.

Come take inspiration with a look at some of the world's most creative book clubs, both here and in the US. Click here for tips to set up your own book club or take a look at the UK's best hidden reading spaces here .

The Topless Book Club

"Burn Bras, Not Books" is the motto of this free-wheeling New York City book club. Members take advantage of little-known city laws that allow both male and female toplessness with alfresco, bra-free reading sessions in public spaces. Male spaces are limited to those people the group know (unsurprisingly there's plenty of men on the waiting list) and judging by the photos on its blog, it's a a whole riot of sun-filled, boob-airing fun.

The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, New York City

The Erotica Book Club

With 50 Shades phenomena conquering the world a few years back, it's hardly a shocker that erotica book clubs are on the rise. This one, London's Mucky Book Club, has standards - it's not after "bad writing for cheap thrills". Instead, members revel in "good books with saucy bits in them", from John Cleland to Jilly Cooper. We particularly love the bath woman logo (reading in baths being one of our all-time favourite activities).

The Mucky Book Club, London

The Culinary Book Club

This foodie lover's book club and blog event is run by four friends, one of whom owns a rare and used bookstore with her husband. The founders are based across the US but coordinate their club online as a bi-monthy event "marrying the pleasures of reading and cooking." For each event, members across the world choose a (usually food-centric) book to read and cook something inspired by it - like lamb stew with dried plums from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Cook The Books Club, virtual (blog-based), US and worldwide

The Arty Book Club

The Hepworth Wakefield is a Yorkshire-based art gallery that showcases contemporary artists, and its monthly book club centres around literature and poetry linked to current exhibitions. The agenda is refreshingly offbeat. June's book club, for example, will focus on women artists and writers from the North in the 1930s, specifically Winifred Holtby and Barbara Hepworth - to coincide with the gallery's Barbara Hepworth exhibition "and her development of a radical approach to the human form."

The Hepworth Wakefield Book Club, Yorkshire

The Knitting Book Club

Crafty types will love this knitting book club that meets on the first Tuesday every month at the I Knit London centre in Waterloo. Members - the brilliantly-named "Knitterati" - pop along with their yarn, needles, hooks and books for a truly rewarding (and productive) group read. Those not based in London can join the virtual I Knit Ravelry group for online discussions.

I Knit Book Club, Waterloo, London

The Nostalgia Book Club

If you're the kind of person who delights in wallowing in childhood reads, this is the book club for you. Its members meet twice a month in venues across Minneapolis and Minnesota to revisit books from years gone by, with a heavy dose of nostalgia thrown in. A mission statement reads, "whether we're laughing at the fashion described in The Babysitter's Club series or reminiscing about having our first solid book-cry during Little Women, our book club relishes in enjoying some old literary favourites."

The Childhood Nostalgia Book Club, Minneapolis and Minnesota

The Random Book Club

This Scotland-based book club promises to give your bookshelf a facelift by sending you a surprise hand-picked book from its second-hand shop, the largest of its kind in the country, every month. Discover the thrill of a truly different read (something you might never pick up yourself), with books evenly divided between fiction and non-fiction genre. You can then discuss your lucky dip choice with other members on an online forum.

The Random Book Club, Scotland (distribution UK-wide)

The Walking Book Club

Book-lover Emily Rhodes set up the walking book club on London's Hampstead Heath as a way of rallying against the closure of independent stores, and for some fresh-aired escapism - "we stomp off, bookchatting our way across the Heath, free from the world of ebooks and tax avoidance." Her idea is to introduce keen readers to older, little-known works in the Heath branch of Daunt Books where she works, and match the discussion of them to certain landscape points on the Heath, seamlessly bringing together land and literature in one, jolly jaunt.

Emily's Walking Book Club, Hampstead Heath, London

The Graphic Novel Book Club

Who said comics were for kids? This vibrant book club celebrates the very best and most cutting edge of comics and graphic novels "that any literate person should familiarize themselves with". Its monthly gathering comes together in Los Angeles and celebrates the work of greats such as Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Neil Gaiman, Marjane Satrapi and more.

The Graphic Novel Book Club, Los Angeles

The Speed Dating Book Club

There are few better tests of a partner than whether they share the same book taste as you, so hallelujah for a growing number of literary speed dating events in London and the US. Not a book club as such, these gatherings nevertheless unite book-lovers with the potential to make them actual lovers - not something you could say for every reader event. the London-based Original Dating has held events in the past, as has the San Francisco Public Library. Keep your eyes peeled as this kind of event kicks off in earnest here in Britain over the next few years...

Literary Speed Dating, various organisations and locations worldwide

Do you have your own suggestions for unusual and brilliant book clubs? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.

Words: Anna Brech

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.