Management Consultant Mike Eldon

What joining a book club entails

It’s only this year that I enjoyed my first experience with a book club, one that was being launched by my Rotary Club of Nairobi.

We have been meeting monthly ever since, and as it has proved to be such an enriching experience I thought it would be good to share something about it in my last column of the year.

It’s quite demanding reading a book each month (as Sunny Bindra has often challenged us to do), never mind being prepared to make useful contributions to discussions about them.

And just imagine if you are not just a participant but the moderator. More on that later.

There’s so much to organise in forming and running a book club.

First one must benefit from an enthusiastic convener who is able to attract the right number and quality of members and then keep them motivated and active – an easier task for this book club, given that the target is from within our tight Rotary community, plus our younger Rotaracters.

Then one must schedule times to meet that are adequately convenient to all, and decide whether to have the meetings be physical, virtual or hybrid.

A regular monthly time is ideal, but inevitably circumstances arise that result in changes having to be made.

Even then of course some members have last-minute other obligations that prevent them from participating.

‘Please can you record the session,’ they plead, ‘so I can catch up with it later.’ OK if it’s virtual, more difficult otherwise.

Obviously, physical meetings deliver the best conversations and the deepest interactions, but virtual ones attract higher numbers.

As for hybrid sessions, it’s much harder for those participating online to contribute and be heard.

The Key is selecting which books to read several months ahead. Here suggestions are sought from members and we then vote on our preferences.

We agreed we’d have a mix of fiction and non-fiction, of local and international authors, and members proposed titles they thought would appeal to the group.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of good suggestions.

Selecting the books is the easier part. More difficult is nudging members into acquiring the chosen ones, printed or online, and then actually reading them before the due date.

For it turns out that the kind of people who are attracted to join are unduly busy with their professional, family and other commitments.

So while filled with good intentions, experience has shown that come the day quite a number haven’t managed to get around to even opening the month’s book.

One of the important roles of the convener is to seek appropriate volunteers to moderate each session, as good moderation skills are vital for keeping the participants engaged.

The moderators must be skilled at introducing the book and its messages, without taking too much time over it.

They must then seek contributions from members, including the quieter ones who might otherwise not volunteer to speak.

And what about those who are in on the meeting but have only managed to read the odd chapter, or maybe skimmed just a few pages, perhaps none at all?

They can be brought in later, to react to what others have shared.

Time management is important, to ensure coverage of the key aspects and impact of the book, and then to draw the discussions to an elegant conclusion, with suitable closing remarks from the members.

Among the books we’ve dissected are a trio of autobiographies: Obama’s A Promised Land (I was asked to moderate this one, so I had to take extra time beyond the mere reading), Wangari Mathai’s Unbowed, and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

Novels included Wanjiru Koinange’s The Havoc of Choice and Khaled Hossein’s The Kite Runner; while our non-fiction ones were Sunny Bindra’s Up & Ahead (about strategy), Michaela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat, Adam Grant’s Think Again, and Evelyn Mungai’s From Glass Ceiling to Open Skies.

Each discussion was wonderfully thought-provoking, including cross-referencing previous readings, and for Bindra’s and Grant’s, we talked about how what we had read should be applied to strengthen our Rotary Club.

Indeed our conclusions were later shared with the membership at large, leading us to be described as a think tank!

Each book, and each discussion, would provide excellent material for an article.

If you are not a member of a book club I hope that what you have read here will provoke you into considering joining one.

It will be tough to find the time, but you won’t regret it.