We think of our digital space as a communal commonplace book. It's full of notes and fringe thoughts, files and essays, questions and contradictions, personal writings and reflections—all from smart people with unique perspectives.
That said, we have a strong distaste for the trends and fads that pervade our modern work and social environments. Here, there will be no paywalls, no productivity hacks, no premium resources, no newsletters, no content marketing, no advertising, no promotions, no lifestyle coaching, and no halfway socializing in search of personal gain.
Attention. This, too, is a scarce commodity, with all the media competing bitterly for a piece. Watching the melee of money and politics, sports and art, technology, and advertising, leaves little attention leftover. Only the person who turns his back on these overbearing claims on his attention and turns off the roar of the channels can decide for himself what is worth his attention and what is not. In the barrage of arbitrary information our perceptive and cognitive capabilities decline, they grow when we limit our attention to those things and only those things that we ourselves want to see, hear, feel and know. In this we can see an occasion for luxury. — Hans Enzensberger, The Future of Luxury
Our hope is that what we do here is worth paying attention to. This page is about how we read and write together. We welcome all questions and suggestions.
We shouldn't have to say some of this stuff, but we live in strange times. Here are a few policy points we want to be clear about:
- We’ll never share or sell your name, email, or information you post in Strangers to anyone. In some cases, we may wish to publish a discussion post on the website, so that people interested in joining can see what they'd be getting into. We will never publish posts with your name on it without your permission.
- You own what you post. You are welcome to edit, delete, and re-post in any way you'd like.
- Be yourself—or not. We encourage everyone to use their real name and a good headshot. That said, some of you would agree that we know too much about one another these days. You are welcome to use a pseudonym.
- This website uses no cookies, no tracking, no scripts.
As an online group, we have to be able to explain, persuade, explore and otherwise get all things done in writing. We place a high value on clear communication:
- No lazy writing. Do your best to obey basic rules of grammar. Put one thought after the other, self-edit, and use complete sentences.
- Please use your words. Avoid chatroom abbreviations, emojis, and GIFs. We don't know how to enforce this, but you will be frowned upon for using textspeak.
- There is a special place in hell for people who use all caps.
- Say what you mean. Do not use jargon. Be clear, direct, and truthful.
We use Basecamp to organize our efforts as a group.
On the Home page in Basecamp, the Strangers project is where you get your bearings. This is where you'll find club-wide announcements and stuff everyone needs to know. You can shoot the shit with other members in group chat, share book, article, and podcast recommendations, update the schedule, and respond to check-in questions.
Message Board, Campfire: The Strangers message board is a space to present ideas, ask questions, and share what you are learning or working on. Campfire is group chat, where the less formal banter takes place. Message board posts do not have to be related to the book we're reading or our reading list. One caveat is that you should only post on the board when you feel that you have a reasonable topic to discuss with the group.
Docs and Files: In the Docs section, you'll find essays, journal articles, and other resources that are relevant to our interests. When uploading a PDF or pasting longer texts, mind the folder structure and include a quote or brief summary of the upload to give more context. We also have an annual JSTOR subscription, so if you find something interesting and want to pull down the full text to share with the group, let us know.
How We Read Together
We read one book during a six week reading cycle:
- We read one book from the reading list for six weeks straight. This is the primary book. Ideally, the majority of discussion happens around this book.
- During the six weeks, we'll explore different themes from a secondary list of resources. These are essays, articles, short stories, whatever. Maybe one essay is about technology, another is about history, philosophy, sociology, etc. To encourage more diversity, these pieces can come from anywhere on the web. You decide which ones (if any) you want to read and write about.
- At the end of the six week reading cycle, we'll take two weeks to cool down. This is a good time to compose and publish final thoughts, join a video chat, and follow-up on existing discussions. We'll also add new members and post details for the next reading cycle during the cool down period.
How We Talk About Books
There's a Basecamp project for each reading cycle. All focused discussion takes place within these projects via the message board. The name of the project will match the name of the primary book. Discussions can start at any time during the reading cycle.
Anyone can create a message board post. Have an idea you want to bounce around? Want to make sure you've got a handle on what you're reading? Post on the message board to present your thoughts and ask questions. And forget about spoilers, we're reading non-fiction. Remember to include chapter names and page numbers when referencing specific content.
We encourage everyone to write a book review. These are great conversation starters, and they can take any shape or form you would like. The more detailed, the better. Post your summary in the book project, not the Strangers project. We'd love to see additional references, links, images, videos, whatever you found useful as you made your way through the book. Definitely upload quality images of your highlights and margin notes.
Replying to Discussion Posts
Here are a few things to mind when talking with your peers:
- Aim for brevity. Keep your replies to three paragraphs, four at the most.
- Easy on the quotes. Quote only what you need to make your point. Do not break previous replies into multiple quotes; doing so lengthens your reply without aiding its readability.
- Do not make consecutive posts. Take time to compose a reply that includes all of your ideas and questions. Give it room to breathe, then post again when you have something to say or ask.
- Use people's names. When addressing someone in your reply, use their first name.
- Keep it moving. We need your voice and your perspective to drive other people into the conversation. So ask good questions. Even better, ask questions that are specific to you and your experiences.
- Use inline links. Create inline links instead of pasting full URLs in your comment.
Want to meetup with other members locally, or schedule a video call to discuss what we're reading? It's on you to make it happen. Use the Strangers message board and group chat to gauge interest and figure out meeting details. We have a Zoom account for hosting video calls with more than two people.
We keep track of books we'd like to read on the Bookshelf. Anyone can suggest books to add to the list. As a general rule, please avoid suggestions that would make Carl Sagan roll in his grave.