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Got a problem? Start a book club?

July 16, 2022

During the pandemic, I felt like everyone started reaching for books to solve any and all problems. Racism in America? Start a book club. Police brutality? Start a book club. Confused about science? Start a book club. Politics got you down? Start a book club. Can’t deal with reality? Start a book club.

It became a joke for me whenever someone said they were upset about the state of the world and wanted to help. After a serious discourse on the state of the world, including brainstorming legitimate solutions, I would offhandedly suggest starting a book club to solve the problem. I got eye rolls, followed surprisingly by a moment of serious contemplation.

I think solving the world’s problems via a book club is appealing to a lot of individuals. Read a book and solve world hunger? I’m in! People might not have time to volunteer at their local food bank, but they can read a few chapters a week and then sit and chat with friends over wine and cheese.

Book clubs are appealing to organizations too. The private school I worked for during the pandemic had a summer book club exploring racial issues in America and in teaching. Teachers gain knowledge and hopefully implement what they’ve learned in the classroom. Problem solved, right? There are even published curriculums out there to help businesses and organizations implement socially oriented book clubs in their workplaces.

Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE book clubs. I love learning about things, thinking about things, and discussing ideas with other people. It’s fun to interact with people I don’t see on a daily basis and hear what they pulled out of a book that I might have missed.

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I wish we could solve the world’s problems just by reading and showing up to book club meetings, but book clubs aren’t generally action oriented.

Even if they aren’t action oriented, book clubs do help provide the ESSENTIAL first steps toward solving (or at least improving) world problems.

  • First, book clubs provide information. Everyone always says “Knowledge is power”. Well it’s true. No one can solve a problem without first understanding that problem. The books themselves can supply this information, but an essential aspect of understanding is learning from others.
  • Second, book clubs allow people to practice communicating. Book clubs can help people articulate information or clarify how they feel about an issue. Figuring out how to communicate with others who might have different ideas is also a skill in high demand these days, especially when talking to people about social issues.
  • Third, book clubs connect people with similar interests. It’s hard (read: impossible) to solve large social issues on your own. If you want to move toward more actionable activities, you need other people who feel similarly about issues to help with planning and follow-through. Book clubs are a great place to meet these people.

Even though I don’t think book clubs can solve the world’s problems, I think they’re a great way to gain knowledge about issues, and connect and communicate with people who care. And the more people who care, the more likely it is that we’ll see improvement in the world.

So, I’m going to keep suggesting book clubs to people. Even if I get eye rolls, I’ll also get that moment of serious contemplation. If that turns into a more informed person down the road, I’m willing to risk the eye roll!

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