Our book club started innocently enough. David, Helen, Ryan and I all agreed we should read Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker, in light of the financial crisis. Well, David, Ryan and I agreed we should read it. Helen displayed her usual disdain for anything not related to food or pole dancing.
“You’re going to read it too, Helen,” I calmly explained in response to her protests, “because you are part of the book club.” In that moment, the moment I declared those words, our little book club was born. “Let’s gather on April 29 and discuss the book,” I said. Everyone agreed.
April 29 rolled around, and Helen and Ryan didn’t read the book. I was livid. You can’t have a book club where 50% of the club does not read the book. And there was no punishment for their actions. No penance to be paid. They simply did not read the book, and nothing happened. They didn’t even seem remorseful.
If one person does not do something, that’s one person. But when half of the group gets it wrong, there’s a systemic issue. I was to blame for the failed first meeting.
I regrouped. I took a minute. I remembered that William Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” As I thought very hard about the state and future of the book club, I became increasingly determined to thrust greatness upon my book club.
Through a series of steps, I knew I could mold the book club into a literary force that would inspire writers to write, non-readers to read, and the thoughtful to speak.
Here is what I did.
Step 1, I kicked Helen out of the book club. I would have kicked Ryan out too, but then it would just be David and me, and that’s not a book club. That’s a couple reading the same book.
Step 2, I bragged about my book club to friends. This was easy. I’m a natural braggart. The key here was to compel them to ask to join the book club. I can’t force someone to read a book, as Helen taught me, but I can make someone want to be part of something great. That’s what our book club was: respite from the real world, a refuge for the 24 hour news cycle that clutters the mind, a free nose-dive into literature. The conversation would typically go like this,
“Hi! I have a book club meeting tonight. I’m so excited.”
“You’re in a book club?”
“Yes, it’s pretty exclusive.”
“Can I join?”
“Who runs your book club?”
“It’s very democratic. Listen, I think you can join, but you should know, we have a rule.”
“What is it?”
“At the end of every meeting, we vote someone out of the book club.”
That brings us to Step 3 on our climb to book club greatness. I instituted a rule that requires people be voted off the book club. This rule ensured that only people confident in their ability to thrive in a book club would join. The indolent need not apply.
Through these simple steps, I was able to gather 10 sharp minds around one book once every two months. The voting rule also made it possible for me to kick out any members that were holding us back. The book club flourished in 2015.
It was incredible. During one meeting: a member contacted the author of The Morels. He joined us via skype to talk about his book. We read fantasy, science fiction, non-fiction, mystery, British literature, and works from the canon. We laughed over plot twists. We argued over writing style. We challenged gender bias. We grappled with perspective. By day, we were project managers, developers, architects. By night, once every two months, we were reading wizards, casting a spell of discourse through the room that enchanted the mind.
Admittedly, not everything was perfect during these times. Voting a member off after every meeting did have a dark side. Because there were no guidelines around why a person was voted off, new members occasionally presented desperate comments. One time, Drew revealed he didn’t know a character was paralyzed throughout the book. I wanted to paralyze him! How could he make such a gaffe in our book club that would force us to vote him off?! I liked Drew as a person, but as a book club member, he just couldn’t cut it. Another time, Jennie listened to the audio book. Also, I accidently left Alex off of a scheduling email. I couldn’t reveal my administrative blunder, so I just acted as though Alex had been voted off of the book club. This trick was easy to pull off, because I was the only one to count the votes.
And I wasn’t really counting. I was just kicking members out as I saw fit. I couldn’t trust the group to make the right decisions. Trusting people had steered me wrong in the early book club days; I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
In 2016, I’ve decided to further improve the book club. It was time to send members constructive feedback. Everybody loves feedback.