It started as a casual before-dinner conversation during 1SE’s team retreat in Cancun, Mexico. 1 Second Everyday’s COO Schoneck Shoaf was talking about a book he’d recently started reading – a nonfiction book called Longitude by Dava Sobel, about an English carpenter and watchmaker named John Harrison, who designed the first reliably working sea-clock. Schoneck’s excitement over the history of this one man’s lifelong quest to create a sea-clock that would eventually revolutionize mapmaking and sea travel was contagious, and several of us showed interest. I don’t recall exactly who it was that suggested we start a company book club, but my money would be on Brand Manager Emily Volk. Emily takes reading very, very seriously, and the company book club that she would create (the Slack channel we use for the group was created by her, so I don’t need to rely on my awful memory for that) would be her third concurrent reading group.
Since there was already a book we’d started talking about ready to go, we began by reading Longitude. Although it was a quick read for most of us, I think the overall feeling was that Schoneck’s initial discussion of the story was actually more interesting than the book itself, which spent rather a lot of time focused on the politics and quirks of England in the early 18th century. Someday, we should get Schoneck to write a book himself. Our first book-focused conversation was maybe a little stumbling, but other than Emily, we were all pretty new to the idea. I’d certainly never been involved in a book club before, but with Emily’s guidance we’ve worked out a pretty nice little system for our remote kaffeeklatsch. Here’s how it works:
Each round, one of us (the host) leads the group through a discussion of the book we’ve just read. There’s not a lot of built-in structure for what form this discussion will take, so it’s varied from meeting to meeting and from host to host. Generally it’s been a series of pretty laid back, meandering conversations about characters, themes, what we liked and didn’t, and weird things we noticed while reading. It’s awesome to get other perspectives from smart people on the books we read, and it’s nice to have a relaxed discussion about something not-work with the people I work with.
When the discussion has wound down, another one of us (the predetermined future host) provides three reading options for the next round.The future host gives each of these potential next books a quick run-down and the group discusses them briefly before voting on which of the books we want to tackle. The final order of business for a meeting is figuring out who will act as host next, and when the next meeting should be. Once the future book has been decided, each of us is responsible for getting a hold of it. Some of us prefer hard copies, while some get digital versions, and still others opt for audiobook versions.
It’s been interesting to see the options put forward by different members of the group. We’re equal-opportunity in terms of content, format, and the great fiction/nonfiction divide, but we definitely have demonstrated a tendency toward nonfiction and SF. Below, for those looking for a next book suggestion or curious about what Team 1SE reads, is a rundown of our booklist to date.
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Host: Schoneck Shoaf, CTO
Longitude tells the story of John Harrison, inventor of the Marine Chronometer, and guides the reader through thirty years of trials, failures, lies, politics, and eventually – success so total that the marine chronometer revolutionized life around the world within a lifetime – kind of like an early 18th century iPhone.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Host: Emily Volk, Brand Manager
Station Eleven is a nonlinear narrative surrounding the events following a global pandemic that cripples modern society and leaves the survivors to band together, building new communities that forge ahead while finding ways to remember what was lost. We finished this just before the Covid-19 outbreak, which made it extra terrifying.
The City and the City by China Mieville
Host: Bruce Seaton, Content Creator
The City and the City is a thriller based in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma – two cities that never interact, despite existing in the same geographical area. The book follows Detective Borlú of the Besźel police as he investigates the murder of a foreign student whose body was found in Besźel, but who had been studying in Ul Qoma, and whose case leads him to rumors of the mythical, secret third city of Orciny.
The Underwater Welder is a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire. It paints a stark, often silent picture of a man dealing with issues of fatherhood as his wife gets closer and closer to giving birth. The artwork is both beautiful and terrifying, telling the story with loose, expressive linework and sometimes oppressively grey watercolor washes. It is surreal and intimate, and ultimately, uplifting. I’m pretty sure.
Marvel 1602 is an eight-part limited series written by Neil Gaiman, who reimagines many of Marvel Comics’ A-List heroes and villains as existing in the first years of the 17th century, during the turmoil at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s life. When they begin to realize that they’re not supposed to exist for another 400 years, they begin trying to work out what’s wrong with the universe. It’s very Gaiman, though we found that those of us familiar with the Marvel universe already enjoyed the book more than those who didn’t know the canon.
The Night of the Gun by David Carr
Host: Jeff Blagdon, Lead iOS Developer
The Night of the Gun is the booze- and cocaine-fueled memoir of legendary New York Times reporter David Carr, who tries to reassemble his life through interviews with the people who were there – sometimes much more there than he was himself. The complexity of the story is mirrored by the complexity of Carr’s reactions to it – the book veers from just-the-facts reporting into melodrama into apologia and back many times in the course of the tale. The book nonetheless provides the reader a searing picture of excess, violence, recovery, backslide, and love. It’s a grind, but it’s worth a read.
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Host: Madison Kirby, Social Media Manager
It’s really hard to say much about Under the Skin beyond “it’s about a young woman who picks up hitchhikers in Scotland” without giving away something critical about this gradually unfolding SF thriller. It’s a slow burn, but the pacing of the book allows the reader to truly consider the questions the book raises (What does it mean to be human? How does society decide who is and is not valuable?), and the payoff at the end is significant. For those who have seen the film by Jonathan Glazer, never fear. The book and the film are very, very different.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Host: Sharon Rosenberg, Senior Product Designer
This portrait of a Chinese-American family in a small town in late-1970s Ohio as they process the sudden and mysterious death of their daughter is both riveting and moving. There’s a lot going on here, as themes about parenthood, race, sexuality, and community intersect in darkly beautiful ways. The conclusion of the book drew several different interpretations, just within our little group. I haven’t wanted to holler at characters in a book this much in a long time.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Politico-historical tragi-comedic mystery?
Host: Vinh Dinh, iOS Developer
And this is where we are today. The Sympathizer plays out as the coerced recollections of a North Vietnamese agent embedded among the staff of a South Vietnamese general who flees to the United States when the communists take Saigon. It’s a fascinating look at a situation that most of us in the west know from a purely western perspective. The book won the Pulitzer, the Carnegie, the Edgar for best first novel, and a list of other prestigious awards. I can’t wait to hear what everyone else in the club has to say about it.
I’ll admit to some trepidation when we were putting the 1SE book club together. I’ve always found reading to be a profoundly private experience, and while I generally enjoy discussing books I’ve read with others, I had imagined a book club as something more like assigned reading in school. I was also hesitant about reading books I hadn’t picked myself, and some of what we’ve read is stuff I would never have pulled off the shelf on my own. I still can’t imagine how Emily deals with multiple book clubs, but I’m sure glad to be a part of this one. The varying tastes and perspectives, the weird things I glossed over but that stuck in someone else’s mind, the exchange of interpretations, ideas, and feelings – these are all valuable things that add amazing depth to the experience of reading a book.