Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Club Boundaries

As mentioned in my last post, the book-enthusiasts group I started in college served as the basis of the reading group I started at work. This is the e-mail I sent out when I first proposed the group:

There was mention a few weeks ago at lunch about a former company book club, and whether through disbandment or pocket veto, this club no longer exists, which is a shame for new employees and old alike. I would like to start a new one, if possible.

Here are my suggestions (and as, while I have the luxury of writing this e-mail over lunch, not all of you will be able to read it over lunch, I will attempt to be brief): 
1) In my experience with book clubs, people like to read, but it is a burden to all read the same book because reading a book for a club takes away the freedom to choose your own. Also, for some who are already in other book clubs, reading multiple books is taxing and removes the joy of reading. I suggest a book-lovers club of sorts. We would have a short reading common to everyone for a week, which we would discuss, but then we would talk about what we're reading on our own. This gives a broader range of books to talk about and puts less pressure on members to read the "accepted" book. (My last semester of college, I adopted this book club philosophy, and I was amazed at how much smoother and better things ran.) Also, I used the former club as a "reader's accountability club," with each member (who wished to) setting a weekly reading goal and tracking that commitment with other members of the group.
2) We could meet over lunch once a week, or bi-weekly, or monthly--whichever is most acceptable to those involved. Or we could meet outside of work (the benefit being that I would make treats; then again, I might make these, anyway :-) ).
3) I am willing to handle all administrative overhead. Simply put, you just have to show up (and try to read the short common reading [normally an essay, article, or short story--never over 20 pages unless prior notification and approval is given).
4) I am willing to accept any suggestions for reading material or club practices, etc.

If this sounds like it would be fun (which it will be--and it is also cheaper than any other book club around :-) ), let me know your interest! I can get this started soon; I already have some good readings picked out. Also, I only sent this e-mail to those who come to lunch; if you know of anyone else who would be interested in joining, feel free to forward this e-mail (though we'd better decide if it's happening first).

Happy reading, and have a nice day!

Not all of my proposals were accepted as-is (and some others that were accepted later changed). In fact, I am grateful for the changes that developed. Here is how the club is currently operated:
  • We meet biweekly on Thursdays of pay weeks. This gives the group consistency--there is no questioning, "Are we meeting this week?" If you're getting paid, you can plan to attend book club (unless a Thursday holiday--namely, Thanksgiving--falls during a pay week, or on Thursdays during our "administrative Christmas break" [i.e., Jon's necessary break from book clubs]).
  • There are always treats, unless someone drops the ball (which has happened only once or twice because...). Everyone likes treats, and as I say, even if the discussion falls flat, you are still up on the deal if you get a tasty treat. Treats providers are on a rotating schedule now.
  • We alternate readings between fiction and nonfiction. I like this because I tend to make it through fiction books much faster than nonfiction. This ensures that my (and other group members') reading diet is at least somewhat balanced. And knowing that I will eventually have to provide a nonfiction reading keeps me reading nonfiction more that I probably would otherwise.
  • There is also a rotating schedule for choosing readings. I initially chose all readings, and while this survived for a year, it was better for all parties involved that this burden became shared. I'll talk about this in depth in another post.
  • Each session typically ends with, "Would anyone like to talk about what they're reading?" This opens the floor for good reading recommendations (many of which I've taken) and also offers a space for accountability ("Jon, did you ever finish Crime and Punishment?" Not yet...), raving, and ranting. All of these opportunities are good for book lovers.
  • I act as secretary and point person for the group, so if someone is unable to provide a reading or treats when their slot arrives (life happens), I can either find someone else to fill in or pull from a ready stock of backlogged readings that I have planned for when my slots arrive. I also distribute the chosen reading to members who indicate they'd like to read it. My administration does not mean I'm "in charge," but it does clarify the order of the group.
As I mentioned, this group has been going for about five years now, about a year longer on both sides than my home book club lasted. In my next post, I'll explore a little deeper some of the workings of the club, including why the best thing that happened to it was delegation.

If you have any specific questions about this group, please ask them in the comments. I'll try to discuss whatever interests you in future posts. Also, if you'd like to read this series from the beginning, click on the label "book enthusiasts group" on the right sidebar or at the bottom of this post.

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