It’s been really tough lately to find the time to read. I am not usually an avid reader. When I do read, it takes me for fricken ever to finish a book. With 2 small kids at home (one is an infant) and a long commute into the city, it’s been hard to find the desire (and time) to sit and just read something. You should see the stack of unread books on my nightstand. Turns out that people at work had the same sort of problem – they want to read, but don’t they don’t want to read. So how can I satisfy my want for learning without having the time and motivation? My answer: force it to happen with a deadline and make it a group effort.
This is why I started a book club at work. [And those close to me are probably ROFL right now reading that. That’s ok, I’ll give you a sec to let it out of your system.] There’s a bunch of technical and managementy books that I’ve seen or heard about, but just couldn’t ever get my ass in gear to read them. I really needed a forcing function to help me consume these books. And I figured if I had other people involved, then I would be compelled to participate. So a book club seemed like the perfect answer. And after 4 books in, I can say that it’s working fairly well.
Our book club is pretty simple and follows these guidelines:
- One book will be selected by a different member of the group each time.
- Try to pick books that people can finish in 4-6 weeks, respecting people’s deadlines and workload (so no War and Peace type epics)
- Try to pick books that are somewhat related to work. These can be development books (e.g. Pragmatic Programmer), test books (e.g. Explore It), or business books (i.e. Switch).
- Discussions will be scheduled in a Google Hangout every 4-6 weeks. Anyone can participate regardless of whether you read the book or not.
Admittedly, the book club hasn’t been a huge success, but it hasn’t been a total failure. It’s been…OK. The biggest hurdle so far has been participation. When first approaching the team with the idea of starting a book club, there was a ton of enthusiasm from about 20 or so people. Lots of people replied with, “Great idea!” or, “Sure, I’ll totally do it!” But so far, there’s only been 3 people, including myself, who read the book and participate in the discussion (well, 1 person participates in the discussion, but doesn’t read the book. Sigh.). Several people say that they will read and join the meeting, but don’t end up doing either. And the sad truth is that it still comes down to two main “problems” – time and motivation.
Some of the folks just don’t want to be bothered with reading a book on a deadline. When they come home from work, it’s their time. Time to spend with the family. Time to spend relaxing and not dealing with work. Time to read what they want to read on their own deadline. For other folks, they don’t have the motivation. Enrichment isn’t something they care to do. They come to work, do their work, go home. Usually, it’s these same folks who don’t participate on Stack Overflow or Github, or read technical blogs, or don’t do anything outside of work that’s remotely related to work (i.e. “techy things”). And for a small number of folks, the content of the books just aren’t interesting to them and they would rather not expand outside their interests.
It’s tough to argue with time. It’s a tough nut to crack and I can empathize – I’ve been there, too, quite often. But I’m a big fan of enrichment and learning new stuff even if it’s not directly related to my immediate tasks. It’s part of filling my tool belt since you never know when you will need to pull out any of this information.
We’ll see how long this book club lasts. I for one enjoy reading a new book every month or two. I’m achieving my goal, so I’m happy in continuing this a long as my one other cohort participates. And if this book club does end up fizzling out, who knows, I may still stick with this reading thing.
Here’s the list of books we’ve read so far. If anyone has suggestions for other books or for tips on running this book club better, let me know in the comments.
February: Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar, by James Bach
March: The Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin
April: Perfect Software and Other Illusions about Software Testing, by Gerald Weinberg
July: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
September: The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell