I have a two problems that make it hard for me to join book clubs. I am extremely particular about which books I read and, secondarily, I have a compulsion to finish every book that I start. I have joined one book club in my life. Two friends and I decided to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. They both dropped out after the first few hundred pages and I was left trudging through the book alone for over half of 2010. This experience certainly doesn’t make me excited to join another book club.
But an idea club? Now that’s something I could get excited about. It would need to be small enough that a really deep discussion could emerge. Probably 4-8 people max. It would need to include people knowledgeable on the topic as well as a diverse, articulate, thoughtful mix of people. The closest things I’ve found to this concept are reading The Metaphysical Club, attending Palantir’s Jeffersonian Dinners, and organizing a chapter of Seth Godin’s Krypton University. These three things are influencing how I’m thinking about this “book club for ideas.”
The Metaphysical Club is a fantastic (true) book about ideas in America and the birth of pragmatism. Scholars and friends would gather in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1800s to discuss drafts of scientific papers and other emerging ideas. The group included a future Supreme Court justice and several philosophers and authors. It was never really discussed publicly by its members.
I had the privilege of attending a Jeffersonian Dinner hosted by Palantir in NYC at a nice restaurant in the meatpacking district. There was pre-reading ahead of time and you were told to come prepared to introduce yourself and speak for a few minutes to give your perspective on the topic. There were about 40 people there and we rotated seating throughout the dinner so that you got to meet a wide cross section of interesting people. Several were from Palantir but they were each asked to bring an “interesting” person along with them.
Krypton University was a four week self-administered course. Seth Godin prepared materials for the “students” each week and the “host.” Each week there would be a topic, things to read, watch and listen to, and some pre-assignment to bring. I hosted at the Next Big Sound office and had 4 people from the company join and a few others join in as well.
I think once every 2-3 months might be the right rhythm and allow schedules to align so people can plan accordingly and have some continuity to the group. I love the idea of having a topic and pre-work associated. Maybe we rotate the “host” so that person can identify the topic of conversation, assign pre-work, and kick-off the discussion. We’ll cap it at 6 people at first. I think it should be over dinner, or certainly lots of wine (like stereotypical book clubs). Maybe we can identify a guest to join each session who is relevant to the topic. The ideal setting in my mind would be JP Morgan’s private library on 36th and Madison. That room is now part of a public museum and thoroughly off limits for this sort of thing. I suppose a restaurant or apartment would work just as well.
Please reach out if you are interested in participating.