The Bliss of a Bizarro Book Club

While book clubs are great for getting everybody on the same page (har har), a Bizarro Book Club is a way to inject more diversity into your intellectual life. I’ve talked before about the importance of high quality inputs to your creativity, and this is my favorite new method for finding stuff that I would never have on my own. It combines the traditional social benefits of a book club with a much more exciting way of engaging with books, and it’s just as easy to do.  

Everyday Book Clubs: The Good and the Bad

With your everyday book club, the best bit is that everyone gets to share a common experience. For many, book clubs are little more than an excuse for a regular get together where everyone has something to talk about. How many times have you heard folks admit they don’t talk much about the book and instead gossip the whole time? Don’t get me wrong - that sounds like a great time! Even when they are basically just low key parties, traditional book clubs are great for building and maintaining friendships. What’s more, if your friends really do care about the books, you can get some real depth from differing points of view on the same work. The discussion allows everyone to realize things they hadn’t and to leave with a better appreciation for what they got out of the book. So there’s a hell of a lot to recommend book clubs. 

On the other hand, book clubs can have some shortcomings. For one thing, unless your group forms around shared tastes, someone is likely not to enjoy any given book picked by the group, which makes them less likely to have a good time or to bring worthwhile insights to the group. For another, any time you get folks together to talk about the same thing, they can all too easily fall prey to groupthink - somebody says something that sounds reasonable, and there’s no more discussion or debate. If you start a book club to broaden your mind, these weaknesses can bring on two different failures. First, if you form a group with shared tastes, you’re likely only going to read stuff that you were likely to find on your own, and your fellow members are more likely to think like you do, leading to groupthink. Secondly, if your group is made up of friends or neighbors, you’re more likely to run into books that you don’t like and to have a boring discussions about them. 

My Answer: The Bizarro Book Club 

Altogether, these risks are not a big deal if your goal is to drink some wine and hang out. When it comes to reading, though, I am something of a crazy person. I want more from my recurring book-focused events than booze and chit chat. So I had an idea: create a book club to my specifications, and rope my friends into it. Drawn by the innocuous name of “book club”, little would they realize how cunningly I had led them into my selfish trap. 

Here’s what I came up with: gather my most interesting reader friends, with rather different tastes, and each read a different book. Then, share what we got out of the book and discuss. I know these folks well enough to know they are careful readers and the ways our views differ, so their summaries are both high quality and reliable. When I discuss my own book, they make connections to other works that I’ve never heard of. Even better, the books they bring are those I never would have heard of on my own. Imagine if you could go on Goodreads and get a summary of a book that was guaranteed to be interesting, useful, and relevant to you - what a deal! Or if you whenever you made a note while reading, a little link appeared to a something that you (and the author) had never heard of before? This “Bizarro Book Club” was a way to hit the sweet spot between exposure to new thoughts and enough context for those thoughts to be meaningful.

Your Challenge: Try it Out

So, my challenge to you: try out a Bizarro Book Club for yourself! 

Here are the details on how to make one work:

  1. Find at least two friends who love to read (preferably with varied tastes)
  2. Set up a regular get together, every month or so, that works for most of the group most of the time (we’re all over the country, so we use Google Hangouts, and Calendly)
  3. Tell everybody to come ready to talk about a different book (they can share what they’re planning to avoid overlap and get excited)
  4. If at least two people show up, that’s a quorum (try to make sure something happens every time you’re scheduled - that kind of consistency is important to keep something like this going)
  5. Talk about your books! (Maybe set a time limit for each person/book to get to everybody)
  6. If anyone gets so excited by a book discussed that they want to read it too, that’s okay, but they have to bring at least one new insight 
  7. BONUS: To be your group’s hero, take notes to share (especially appreciated by those who couldn’t make it)
  8. DOUBLE DARE BONUS: Allow members to dare each other to read specific books (basically each member gives someone else a homework assignment)

We’ve met a few times so far, and it has worked beautifully - even better than I could have hoped for. I’ve learned so much new stuff and walked away with deeper insights and connections for my own books. Everybody else has had the same reaction. It gladdens my heart that it has exceeded all of my high expectations, and I can’t wait to keep making it even better. If you love to read, do yourself a favor and give this a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

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