How starting a book club accelerated my reading habits by 600%

Perfectly captured by Ella Sanders

It was a bad habit.

One tap on amazon and bang there it was on my kindle or my doormat the next day. I’d fleetingly read a review or even just a crunching blurb and my key words, curiosities or aspirations had slapped me round the face and before I’d considered a sensible swipe-by it was too late.

I’d become a heavy user. Buying non-fiction books at quite a click. But the problem was not so much the cost — at the most I was spending £20 a month — which I saw as a solid investment in potentially 2–3 life-changing reads. The problem was I couldn’t get past page 100 (or 25%) of almost all of the books I’d bought.

The Japanese even have a word for this:

Tsundoku, the constant act of buying books, but never reading them.Specifically, it is letting books pile up in one’s room so much that the owner never gets a chance to read all of them.”

I had a serious bout of Tsundoku. In fact, it felt terminal.

But were the books that bad?

No. It was me, not them. I just couldn’t build the momentum you sometimes need with non-fiction to beat that tricky quarter milestone without being sucked back into the nirvana of book browsing and delivery. I was just about getting through two books every six months and most of those were power reads on long-journeys about real-life adventurers whose peril-driven stories carried me through.

Now I’m sure you can agree that not being able to finish a good book is up there with most of the world’s biggest problems. So, several years and a lot of unread books later, I bumped into another version of myself and we decided to do something about it.

Two Ben’s go to Bali and start a book club…

His name was also Ben. Still is. He’s a genuine lifehacker (5am clubs, multiple startups, all over snapchat). We met amongst the bamboo, macbooks and monkeys at Tribewanted Bali and soon realised we shared the same colossal Kindle curse of unfinished quality reads.

Quickly Ben proposed we pick a book and a date within a month and commit to reading it and celebrate with a book inspired cocktail and debate.

Knowing that I was going to have to talk about it I devoured Zero to One by Peter Thiel and a few weeks later a dozen of us gathered around the candle-light of one of Ubud’s finest cafe’s — The Onion Collective (Temple of Chill) — where we enjoyed a feisty conversation about ‘the age of the startup’, ‘owning your niche’ and even better, a ‘Zero to One’ themed cocktail: a mojito with a chilli edge.

Rebel Book Club was born.

Returning to London Ben and I committed todoing this every month — one book, one meetup, one cocktail — and we decided to invite people to join us.

12 books later…

A year on and we’ve eaten our way through 12 eclectic, mind-opening, habit-forming, career-shifting reads. Our 100+ members voting from a themed short-list of three each month. We have Sunday night ‘power hours’ (switch the wifi off and get your read on) and Mix & Muddle bespoke cocktail fueled meetups across London’s best co-working and startup spaces including Virgin, Airbnb, WeWork, Work Life & Huckletree. We breakdown what we’ve just read and hunt for clues that we can apply to our daily lives and mindsets. We try and focus our discussions around what the book can positively lead to, rather than whether we simply liked it or not.

And on the 12th book, author of the brilliant City of Lies, Ramita Navai, surprised our little tribe with a Q&A. A win for any fledgeling book club.

But did I scratch my reading itch?

Hell yes! At one of the fuller times of my life (a bundle of projects, a toddler and our second daughter’s arrival last November), and with huge thanks to the accountability and momentum of our band of merry rebel readers, I’ve gone from reading two books every six months to two books every month.

One from Rebel Book Club and one from an increasingly large pile of books Ialso want to read. So I still have that problem but the good news is…I’m making a dent. Perhaps more interestingly I’m sharing what I’m reading and learning multiple perspectives on so many different aspects of life. This is what university should have been like! The way I see it, 24 books a year for 30, 40, or even 50 more years of reading really isn’t that many. 20 pages a day. Forever. I can do that. So, regardless of how ‘busy’ my life gets, I plan to keep the reading rate up.

Rebel Book Club, Year 1, London

May 2015: Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan — meetup on Virgin’s roof terrace

June 2015: The One Thing by Gary Keller — meetup at Underbelly

July 2015: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein — meetup at Futerra

August 2015: Never Eat Alone by Keither Ferrazzi — meetup at Huckletree

Sept 2015: Doing Good Better by William Macaskill — meetup at WorkLife

October 2015: Wild Courage by Elle Harrison — meetup at WeWork

November 2015: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield — meetup at Bathtub

December 2015: The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters — meetup at Farm Shop

January 2016: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg — meetup at WorkLife

Feb 2016: This is Happening by Rohan Gunatillake — meetup at WeWork

March 2016: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer — meetup at Airbnb

April 2016: City of Lies by Ramita Navai — meetup at Huckletree

…and the other books I’ve munched through in the last year

We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Business of Sharing by Alex Stephany

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Walking the Nile by Levison Wood

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg

Empathy by Roman Krzanic

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

Legacy by James Kerr

Run or Die by Kilian Jornet

The Automatic Customer by John Warrillow

Thanks to Ben (centre), Albert (right), Mix & Muddle, our awesome venue hosts & all our brilliant members for making Rebel Book Club a thing.

Want to take your reading habits and people up a gear? Apply to join our tribe of creatives, entrepreneurs, changemakers and corporate escapees >Rebel Book Club

Meanwhile, on my bedside table…Tsondoku has, for now, ended. I regularly finish books. But that hasn’t stopped the pile getting any smaller. I’m sure there’s a Japanese word for that too.