During the pandemic, an East Coast bibliophile found the perfect way to bring the book-club experience home — with books, wine, and chocolate
The pandemic changed the way we connect, and in many ways, sparked new ideas and opportunities to bond. While stowed away in Dartmouth during quarantine, avid reader and wine lover Emma Bent came up with Read Between the Vines, a monthly subscription book club box. Bent launched the club in fall 2020.
“I became a particularly voracious reader during the pandemic because I was spending more time at home. I was getting restless and needed an outlet,” says Bent. “I love to read, and although there are other book subscription boxes, none of them integrated a book club aspect. I wanted something that would not only keep me accountable – like a weekly book club, but that would also allow me to meet some new people.”
While Bent researched book blogs, vlogs, and read widely as possible, she quickly learned which novels would lead to engaging conversations. Read Between the Vines subscribers receive a hand-delivered box with free shipping in the Halifax area (but can also be posted Canadawide) featuring a novel paired with a bottle of white or red wine selected by Lucas Mader, a local sommelier from Bishop’s Cellar. For those who prefer to abstain, you can pair your book club box with coffee and tea and artisanal chocolate from local vendors. Bent says that the wine is paired more by season than book themes. Book club chats led by Bent are optional but she says have been well attended, and she is seeing friendships blossom through the connection.
“Wine, for me, is a liquid love language,” says Bent when she describes why a wine option was important to her. “Wine requires a thoughtfulness to curate the right climate, terroir, varietals; like books which require thoughtfulness to assemble its assorted notes into a cohesive symphony,” says Bent. “Both require a great deal of love, blood, sweat and tears to produce the right final product. I always include local artisanal chocolate, because who doesn’t love chocolate?”
In honour of her one-year anniversary, Bent hosted a Read Between the Vines Anniversary Cruise with Murphy’s on the Water Harbour Queen on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 with nearly 100 of her fellow book club members. Local authors like Genevieve Graham, Karen Dean, and myself were invited onboard to read between wine pairings and specialty crafted chocolates made for the event by Halifax baker and chocolate maker, Michelle Kolich.
“Emma chose the wines, I had the pleasure of deciding what flavours to pair with them. I consulted the winery to ensure I was making the best flavour choices,” says Kolich.
“Being part of Read Between the Vines harbour cruise was really a phenomenal experience,” says Mounfiq Raiyan, who cruised, listened to the book readings. “Although 2020 was excruciating; 2021 for me has been froth with personal, health, and business changes, so it was great to spend some quality time with like-minded individuals who love books even more than I do and were hungry to learn and connect with one another.”
For subscriber Becky Davison, vice president of marketing at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, and Bent’s long-time friend who frequently helps her deliver the boxes to her customers, the Read Between the Vines anniversary cruise was seeing a dream become reality. She loves meeting new people with a similar passion for reading and supporting local.
“I could talk all day about books, and if that’s over wine and chocolate, all the better,” says Davison. “I had a moment on the cruise when I thought: I’m on the ocean, drinking amazing local wine with incredible people, enjoying chocolate and listening to amazingly talented writers, does it even get any better than this?”
With 50 regular subscribers and 30 newcomers added monthly to the subscription list, Read Between the Vines has reached subscribers via social media and through news articles. For Megan Brydon, who has been a subscriber since December 2020, she found Read Between the Vines on Instagram. As bookstagram accounts continue to grow, they create a prevalent network of readers who share, review and post their latest read.
I could talk all day about books, and if
that’s over wine and chocolate, all the better
“I liked the idea of a local woman-owned business that provides a curated book club experience delivered to my door, with a strong focus on local partnerships,” says Brydon. “It really helped shake the loneliness of social isolation. I am an avid reader, had seen other book delivery services, but I was looking for a local, more bespoke option. When I discovered, Read Between the Vines, I was thrilled. I have been a loyal subscriber since the first box.”
While the book club meets weekly, there is also an option to meet virtually at the end of each final chapter. Brydon notes she cherishes the friendships she’s formed with other book club members and looks forward to receiving the wine and chocolate. There are also special add-on treats like a candle, bookmark or puzzle that members can also add to the their box selections with each order.
“I am a fairweather book club attender. Emma has had several authors attend her book club, and it’s been a real treat to see behind the scenes of their writing process and follow-up on burning questions,” says Brydon. “What is nice about the online book club is that it is a friendly, low-stakes way to discuss the book, and it is very low-pressure.”
Linda Meyette has routinely been part of an in-person book club for years, but when COVID restrictions prevented her book club gathering, she came across Read Between the Vines through an article on CBC, and searched out the subscription online. Read Between the Vines became an excellent alternative, and even when her old book club meets back up again, she plans to continue subscribing. Meyette appreciates the option to trade wine for a pound of coffee beans, loves the chocolates, but appreciates the community and Bent’s curated book selection most.
Cheryl Grosvold received the subscription from her son as a Christmas gift in 2020, and she loved it so much, her husband renewed her subscription for her birthday in June. Grosvold regularly attends the Sunday book club meeting, and enjoys hearing three generations of women speak from their various perspectives, points of view and predictions about the selected book.
“Read Between the Vines was such a blessing during our many lockdowns of COVID,” says Grosveld, who is retired and adds that during the pandemic there were weeks that the only thing she had on my calendar was Sunday book club.
“Emma’s selections have opened my eyes to books, wine and chocolate that I never otherwise would have read or tried,” she says. “Emma also makes every effort to have the author join us for the last meeting of the month. I have already requested my family renew my subscription for another six months this Christmas.”