Partitioned Book Club

post by jenn (pixx) · 2024-05-12T18:38:53.315Z · LW · GW · 5 comments


  How to Run An Event
  Books I've Run Events On
    Legal Systems Very Different From Ours
      Chapters for partitioned reading:
    The Elephant in the Brain
      Chapters for partitioned reading:
  Examples of Other Viable Books/Readings

Partitioned Book Club (working title) is a specific kind of one-off meetup where attendees coordinate to read different chapters of the same book before the meetup. The meetup consists of each read chapter getting briefly summarized by its reader(s), and then a more general discussion of the book. In a traditional book club you read a chapter a week. In a partitioned book club, instead of there being multiple weeks you have multiple guys. You get it.

It only works with a very specific kind of book - namely, non-fiction books where most chapters are relatively self-contained, and you don't lose critical info by not reading a specific chapter.

It also only works with a meetup of a specific size - like, between 6-15 people.

If you have both of those things though, this meetup can be really fun and a great way to "read" a book in a week.

It does work better if the organizer has read the book in its entirety, but this is not necessary.

Obviously, you will get more out of a book if you read the entire thing by yourself. But we're doing the 80/20 thing here.

How to Run An Event

At least one week before the meetup[1], post an announcement post describing the book that you are reading. Give a quick summary of what the book's about, and let everyone know that they'll be reading the introduction[2], and one other chapter.

In the body of the event description, link a google sheet form set to "anyone can edit", with two columns, "Book Chapters" and "Name". Tell people to put their names down besides the book chapter that they want to read and briefly summarize for the group. The intent is for people to not double up on book chapters if there are still blank spots next to some other chapters, and be able to see in real time which chapters are claimed.

The first column should be populated by the organizer, and will be a straightforward list of the book chapters that are relatively self contained, from the book. The second column will be left blank, for your attendees to call dibs on chapters they feel interested in. It's completely ok for some chapters to remain blank and to be not discussed at the meetup.

I like providing PDFs of the book in the group's private spaces (such as a private discord), whenever possible, but this is not necessary.

When it comes to running the actual meetup, I generally split it into two halves. The first half, the chapters get briefly summarized. I've found that it's pretty important to keep a strict timer on, so your more long-winded members don't end up taking up a disproportionate amount of time for their chapters. I think 5 minutes per chapter is probably good, for most pop science books.

In the second half, move on to more general discussion. I sometimes prepare discussion questions (LLMs are a great help for this if you prompt them the right way) but be okay with them not being used if the conversation just flows naturally. 

Books I've Run Events On

Feel free to yoink text wholesale from my events if it's helpful.

Event Link [? · GW] (includes description, supplementary readings, discussion questions)

Everyone reads

Chapters for partitioned reading:

1. Imperial Chinese Law
2. Romani Law 
3. The Amish 
4. Jewish Law
5. Islamic Law 
7. Pirate Law
8. Prisoners' Law
10. Saga-Period Iceland 
11. Somali Law 
12. Early Irish Law 
13. Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne: The Plains Indians
15. England in the Eighteenth Century
16. Athenian Law: The Work of a Mad Economist 

The Elephant in the Brain

Event Link [? · GW] (includes description. No discussion questions included because I anticipated correctly that people will have plenty to discuss.)

Everyone reads up to Part II

Chapters for partitioned reading:

7: Body Language
8: Laughter 
9: Conversation 
10: Consumption 
11: Art 
12: Charity 
13: Education 
14: Medicine 
15: Religion 
16: Politics

Examples of Other Viable Books/Readings

There's a chance that some books here don't work. The organizer should skim the book to figure out which specific chapters can be partitioned out usefully - it's sometimes the case that there's a few chapters at the beginning of a book that are fairly linear, or a few chapters at the end trying to tie everything together, and those are better off not being part of the partitioning process.

I would be very happy to receive suggestions of other books or readings that can work for this format of event in the comments :D

  1. ^

    ...I say this but I've gotten away with 4 days

  2. ^

     For some books, you may also need to get everyone to read Chapter 1, and maybe the conclusion, but I think in general the introduction section for any non-fiction book works as the essay-length version of it, which means you don't really need to read anything else to get the gist/thesis of the book in broad strokes.

  3. ^

    ChatGPT actually does this pretty well! If you feed it an image or some copy and ask it for an analysis in the style of Roland Barthes, it generally gives you something passably insightful.

  4. ^

    You can do something funky with this, like, "essays from when you were 0-12 years old", "essays from when your parents were in their twenties", etc.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alex_Altair · 2024-05-13T05:55:44.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love this idea!

Some other books this could work for:

  • The Ancestor's Tale
  • The Art of Game Design
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed
  • The LessWrong review books 😉

Many textbooks have a few initial "core" chapters, and then otherwise a bunch of independent chapters on applications or assorted advanced topics.

Replies from: pixx
comment by jenn (pixx) · 2024-05-13T16:13:18.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

thanks for the suggestions! and huh, I did not know this about textbooks, I think that makes it more viable as a partitioned book club feature.

comment by quila · 2024-05-12T19:05:13.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried it with a book that doesn't have self-contained chapters?

Replies from: pixx
comment by jenn (pixx) · 2024-05-13T16:13:40.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

how would you go about doing that?

Replies from: quila
comment by quila · 2024-05-13T16:41:44.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Same as usual, with each person summarizing a chapter, and then there's a group discussion where they try to piece together the true story