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How Book Clubs Maximize Your Nonfiction Reading

Read more. Remember more. Understand more.

Picture of nonfiction books
Some of my favourite nonficition books

Do you find it hard to remember what you read in nonfiction books?

It happens to me all the time.

Ask me to explain what I read in a book I finished 2 months ago and I wouldn’t know what to tell you. This bothers me because I read to learn. I don’t read for entertainment or pleasure.

So what’s the point of reading if you can’t remember what you read?

This is the first problem I have with nonfiction books. 

Problem number 2 is that I would love to discuss what I read but I never get to do it.

I’m usually alone on my couch when reading, and every time I come across an illuminating and inspirational idea, I can only look at my cat wishing he could speak.

Sadly, he can’t, but he always gives me a look that says, “No, man, I don’t give a damn about that.” 

Hardly any of my friends are interested in the stuff I read either. They don’t care about self-help tips, Stoic philosophies or what food is good for your gut.

That’s the second problem I have with reading nonfiction books.

And there’s one more: I never read enough.

I only read for about 30-40 minutes a day and I know that there are people who can’t even sit down with a book for that long. Sometimes I’m one of those people too.

So, how do we overcome these issues?

Book clubs.

I’ve been organizing book clubs for a while and discovered they can help me learn and read more.

Here are 3 reasons why they’re effective.

1. Book clubs help you absorb what you read

Image of a brain
Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

A book club consists of a series of discussion sessions where you share your thoughts on what you read.

This motivates you to interact more with the content of the book because you know that you’ll have to talk about it with others.

You no longer read passively.

Instead, you’re more likely to take notes and write down key points and thoughts as you read, so you’ll be probably highlighting interesting sections or ideas you find hard to grasp.

When you then meet with the other book club members, you present your views on the topic and listen to what they have to say about it too.

By incorporating active reading, note-taking and discussion into the process, you’ll be able to approach the information in multiple ways, which means your brain gets to store it in more than one place.  

This is great news for you. 

You’ll have different places in your brain where the information is accessible, which makes it easier to remember and understand it.

Imagine you’re learning about a new animal. 

If your brain stores information about that animal in only one place, it might be hard for you to remember everything about it. But if the information is stored in many different parts of your brain, it’s like having many copies of a book about that animal. 

None of this is my opinion. It’s written in scientific papers. 

Another thing that brain science tells us is that it’s absolutely normal to forget what you read if you don’t try to retain information.

So, can we say that book clubs are scientifically-proven ways to learn and retain more of what we read?

I’d say so.

2. Book clubs hold you accountable for reading

You might find it hard to read consistently. Or maybe you tend to fall asleep when reading because you do it in bed late at night.

Participating in a book club changes that.

Knowing you’re going to have a discussion with others holds you accountable. You’ll probably give yourself a kick in the butt and find time to read every day.

This is what Dario, a friend of mine, did. 

Dario defines himself as a master procrastinator. He’s even attached a post-it note to his laptop that says, “Don’t procrastinate!”

After participating in a nonfiction book club I organizedhe told me that the online meetings had helped him carry on reading because he wanted to keep up with the other members.

Not wanting to fall behind is indeed what will motivate you to read. It’s like being part of an accountability group.

Ever read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear?

If so, you might remember what the author says about the power of accountability partners:

Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator. You are less likely to procrastinate or give up because there is an immediate cost. If you don’t follow through, perhaps they’ll see you as untrustworthy or lazy. Suddenly, you are not only failing to uphold your promises to yourself, but also failing to uphold your promises to others. – Atomic Habits (p.210)
Would you want to be seen as untrustworthy or lazy? No, so you’ll get some reading done.
By the way, if you’ve read “Atomic Habits” but can’t remember reading about this concept, then it might be time for you to open or join an “Atomic Habit” book club and read the book again – ha!
Atomic Habits book cover
Image from Amazon

Book clubs help you learn from the authors and their readers

I recently organized a discussion session based on “How to Live”, a self-help book by Derek Sivers. 

Derek is one of my favorite nonfiction writers.

In the online session, one of the participants said, “This book looks like it was written by an AI machine”. I wanted to virtually smack the guy in the face and then remove him from the meeting.

How dare you insult my favorite author and his writing?!

I then thought about it and realized that what that guy had said was not that implausible.

Derek deliberately didn’t include any personal stories in “How to Live” and never used the subject pronoun “I”, so no wonder some readers might find his writing artificial.

I didn’t notice this until that guy pointed it out.

This tells us that discussing what we read with others and listening to their opinions can give you new perspectives and ideas that you may not have considered on your own.

You can get unique insights as you learn from the authors and their readers too.

Final thoughts

Learning often happens in groups while reading is a solitary activity.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you read to learn, nonfiction books can provide you with an ocean of knowledge. You can decide to sail that ocean by yourself or explore it with others.

Both ways have their benefits.

But if you struggle to establish a reading habit or find it hard to remember what you read, joining a book club does wonders. And if you’ve never participated in one, I hope this article has motivated you to do it.

Happy (active) reading!

An ocean of knowledge
Photo by courtesy of Pawel Kuczynski –

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