During the pandemic, reading and community have been more important than ever, so we have once again partnered with The Reading Agency to support six reading groups whose members have particularly felt the benefit of communication around books during the pandemic. We have chosen six different reading groups that have all found connection and escapism from loneliness, isolation and the humdrum of lockdown.

These groups – based throughout the UK and including key workers, parents and those self-isolating – will each read, discuss, and review one of the six 2021 Women’s Prize-shortlisted books ahead of our winner announcement on Wednesday 8 September.

Meet the six groups here…

Brixton Book Group

This South London pub-based reading group have been meeting monthly since 2005 and online since March 2020, and have been listed by Time Out as one of “the best places to read books in London” and featured by NHK in Japan. They enjoy reading a range of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, translations, and group has been a great space for its members to come together for a sense of normalcy – particularly important for those members who have been homeschooling, working as key workers, and feeling isolated during the last year.

“Brixton Book Group are very excited to have been selected to join this read along of the Women’s Prize shortlist. We actively try to read more books by women, particularly women of colour, and so are thrilled to have the chance to read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. We previously read Homegoing and were impressed with her talent and craft. We can’t wait to dive into her next book.”

Brixton Book Group is reading Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The Brummie Literary and Custard Society

A newly-named but well-established book group comprised of friends Jo, Helen, Liz, Vanessa, Vicki and Jenny, who enjoy discussing life and literature at their monthly meetings, accompanied by pudding and drinks. Its newest member joined eight years ago, and the group comprises key workers who have worked throughout the pandemic, as well as homeschooling, juggling family, work and wellbeing. They love being challenged to read things they wouldn’t usually read, to broaden their horizons. The pandemic has made their relationships even stronger, despite not actually seeing each other – their WhatsApp group has never been so active!

“After a year full of different challenges for each of us due to the pandemic, we’re really excited to have been chosen to shadow the 2021 Women’s Prize and actually have something to look forward to! We often choose to read and discuss books by female writers and enjoy exploring books by established writers and discovering new voices, too. Several of us are fans of Maggie O’Farrell and were delighted to follow the progress of last year’s prize, really appreciating the chance to hear writers talking in the online events. We’ve been on Zoom for more than a year now but our discussion of our allocated book might be our first in-person meeting post-Covid.”

The Brummie Literary and Custard Society is reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Books Not Boys Book Club

A contemporary, young and creative book club formed online as a result of the pandemic in 2020, Books Not Boys pride themselves on championing women authors, women readers and women supporting women. Their favourite quote the last year has been: ‘reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are’ (Mason Cooley). They celebrate not only the joys of reading, but also the female friendships that have been formed through their shared love of books and the book club itself. The diverse range of members based throughout the UK includes health workers, social workers, new graduates, and many teachers in the group who found this book club a welcome escape from the rigours of online schooling.

“We are delighted to have been chosen for this opportunity to read for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. We are so excited by the contemporary books on the shortlist and as a book club comprised of many young women we are thrilled to take part in this exciting opportunity!”

Books Not Boys Book Club is reading No One Is Talking About This Patricia Lockwood

The Femminents

A reading group of five women from the same family, crossing multiple generations, formed in early 2020 to stay connected while physically separated during the pandemic. They have read and discussed a range of books, from historical non-fiction to modern bestsellers, uncovering much about themselves and each other in the process.

“We are so excited to have been selected to shadow the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist! As five passionate readers, we have long looked to the Prize for recommendations and have discovered many new authors (now firm favourites) through past shortlists. We can’t wait to get stuck into this year’s titles!”

The Femminents is reading How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

Reading Women

Reading Women was set up by avid fans of the Women’s Prize for Fiction to read and discuss all our 25 previous winning books. Hannah and Rose started the group in March 2020 and have only ever met on Zoom, bringing together a group of nine members, many of whom were self-isolating or unemployed for large periods of the pandemic. While some of the group were friends before Reading Women, no one knows everyone in the group, so every meeting has an element of the unexpected as they discover each other’s opinions.

“We are absolutely delighted to have been chosen to shadow this year’s shortlist. As a rag-tag bunch of book lovers, we’ve come together (remotely) this year to celebrate past winners, and what a way to look towards the next!”

Reading Women is reading Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The Candid Book Club

Five best friends (Linda, Mimi, Omma, Tanya and Jess), all women of colour of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage, who have a shared love of reading. Some grew up together, a few went to university together, some worked together and they have shared some of their most formative of years in each other’s company, whilst reading and discussing great books, too. Unofficially they have been book clubbing for many years, but took to Instagram and Twitter almost five years ago in order to promote diversity in reading, and show readers and bookworms that there are books out there which represent them too.

“We are absolutely delighted to have been chosen to shadow one of the books on the Women’s Prize shortlist. We’re always reading and recommending books and so we are very much looking forward to candidly reviewing one of the shortlisted books, and sharing our thoughts with each other and with our followers, too.”

The Candid Book Club is reading Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller


Want to join in the reading challenge? Discover the six 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books here.

If you want to set up your own book club, head to The Reading Agency’s Reading Groups for Everyone, the UK’s largest reading group network.