Head-to-Head Book Club

I’ve never participated in a traditional book club. However, my wife has and this is what they seem to be from my third party perspective:

  • Someone picks a book that inevitably some people don’t want to read
  • Everyone reads the book before the meeting date. Some people will finish well before the deadline and move on to other books and others will finish close to the due date (if they finish at all)
  • At the meeting, conversation and wine flow
  • The book might get talked about. Unless the readers took notes (who wants to do that while reading for enjoyment?), participants will be discussing the particulars of a book well after the freshness date
  • Some attendees don’t talk because they didn’t read the book at all or were not interested enough to care
  • Many introverts won’t join a club in the first place because, well, people
  • Male participants are in (very) short supply. I’m not sure if this is by design (I wouldn’t blame the ladies if it was!) or men don’t feel like it’s a manly thing to do

I think there’s a lot of room for improvement here.

Fundamentally, I feel like the process doesn’t properly honor the book. Luckily, there’s a solution I’d like to present to you that is both enjoyable for the readers and gives a thoughtful treatment of the book itself.

I call it the Head-to-Head Book Club or simply H2H.

I bet you can tell from the name that this is the smallest book club you’ve ever seen. “Head-to-head” here is not about two opponents but rather the transfer of information between two people. The tiny scale of this “club” provides considerable benefits.

Here’s how it works:

  • You and your H2H partner mutually decide what to read
  • You both read a set number of chapters per day
  • You discuss what you read the previous day (questions, likes/dislikes, theories, etc.)
  • Some days there will be considerable discussion and some days there will be none. No worries!
  • Continue the reading/discussing intervals until done
  • When done, discuss the book from an overall perspective

As you can see, this personal book club eliminates the group dynamics. (I’m not saying groups are bad. Any reason to party is a good one!) As a result, it’s a very introvert-friendly way to have a book club experience. Heck, you don’t even have to meet in person for discussions!

It also solves the “freshness” problem since the book is discussed in near real time as you go. This is key for me because it’s so much fun. Since both of you are at the same spot in the book you can discuss anything you’ve read so far and try to come up with whodunnit or make predictions about what will happen. It’s also great when your theories become reality in the book.

The H2H book club is very lightweight. With two people it’s easier to pick a mutually desirable book and reading patterns can be changed on the fly if something comes up with schedules.

The H2H book club approach is a simple way of enjoying a book with a friend. You can be as flexible as necessary and make it your own. When it’s time to pick a new book and the two of you can’t agree at the moment, simply take a break from H2H and revisit later. Time has a way of presenting books that would be mutually enjoyable.

There is no wrong way to run a H2H book club. Whatever you choose to do is the right way.

Beyond the basics, consider these premium add-ons:

  • If you’re a voracious reader you can have separate H2H sessions going with multiple people and books. This might be necessary because you want to do more reading but you have to stop on an H2H session so that you don’t get too far ahead of your partner. (For me, I don’t have multiple H2H sessions but I usually have a non-fiction book handy for extracurricular reading.)
  • Imagine the value-add if you and your partner are both writers. Not only can you discuss the book in a readerly way but you can also discuss writing aspects. Best of all, you are doing that while the things are fresh in your mind and it’s easy to go back a few pages to reread things. This would also be great for a more experienced writer to point out craft aspects to a less experienced writer.

While I’ve codified the H2H Book Club, I must give credit to my colleague who suggested that it might be fun to simultaneously read a book. She was right. Thanks, Kristen!

What do you think? If you are in a traditional book club do you feel like the book gets proper treatment? Is the H2H book club idea intriguing?


5 thoughts on “Head-to-Head Book Club”

  1. I was just thinking about this very idea! How would one go about finding a willing partner? I have tried having a reading buddy before, but they always drop out. Please let us know if you create a website for H2H! Brilliant idea!

    1. Noelle,

      Great minds think alike!

      I’ve only had one reading buddy and that partnership happened rather spontaneously. But, if I wanted another one I suppose I would start with folks I know who read one or more of the same genres I do. I would then explain the concept and see if they are interested.

      I see my buddy every work day so the discussion part is really seamless. Being remote and having to write the discussion is more challenging. So, I’d start with people I see regularly and then expand my circle outward. Feel free to send your candidates a link to this blog post (or simply copy/paste the “how to” bullets) so they get the gist of what you’re asking. I suspect the H2H book club concept would be a new one to most people.

      What would you expect in an H2H website?

  2. You could try joining a group at http://www.goodreads.com and then post in that group about looking for a Head-2-Head reading partner. When someone mentions interest, you could then list the “rules” or whatever.

    I’m also thinking of starting a group called the Head-2-Head bookclub. Would anyone be interested?

  3. I’ve only ever belonged to one book club because I’ve usually got plenty of books on my reading list. This was an SF specialist book club that only lasted a few years and only had two other members, but it did introduce me to two wonderful books. The first is We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It was written in 1921 and was the first book to be banned in the Soviet Union. It is far more scary than 1984. The second is Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, a post-apocalyptic novel set way in the future and written in a made up language. I agree with what you say about book clubs, but they can also introduce you to books you’d never otherwise have read.

    1. Matt,

      Thanks for sharing those books. I hadn’t heard of them.

      That’s a good point about getting introduced to books that you wouldn’t ordinarily read. Definitely an advantage of a diverse group. I had a similar experience with my H2H partner when she recommended Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which is an English country house cozy mystery. That book would never have gotten on my radar but it looked good and won a ton of awards so I gave it a go. (See, I’m even speaking British now! ;-)) Turns out, I loved that book!

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