Boredom can be dangerous. It can lead people to do all kind of strange things. This is the true story of a man who started a cult by accident. Inspired by little more than the fact that he was spending a lot of time sitting around at home without much to do Danny Wallace decided to put an ad in a paper asking people to join him. Join him in what? For what purpose? Well they had no way of knowing. The ad simply said ‘Join Me’ and asked joinees to send their name and a passport photo of themselves.
This is clearly an odd thing to do but he wasn’t the only person who was in the mood to do something slightly irrational. A few people responded to the ad and joined up. In the hands of a less committed slightly odd person it might have stopped there. It might have turned into a story to tell his friends; an amusing story or a warning about the dangers of boredom. As it turned out that was very much just the beginning.
In honour of a recently deceased Swiss uncle who failed to set up a commune in the 40s Danny sets out to get a 100 joinees and then a 1000 joinees. The movement slowly spreads across the world. He becomes a minor celebrity in Belgium for example.
After a while his joinees start to demand answers from their Leader. He’s forced to make up something for Join Me to be about. After briefly considering using his powers for evil he opts for good instead. The Join Me movement spends a few weeks making old men happy through random acts of kindness before moving on to being kind to everyone else as well. Friday becomes their day for good deeds.
Danny travels all over Europe to meet joinees and to promote his cause. This is made slightly more complicated by the fact that he’s trying to keep his girlfriend in the dark because she tends to get annoyed by his ‘stupid boy projects’.
That brings us to a slight problem with this book. Danny Wallace was the co-author of Are You Dave Gorman, a book about his friend Dave Gorman’s attempts to find as many people called Dave Gorman as possible. After writing this book he went on to write Yes Man, a book about the weird stuff that happened to him after he decided to say yes to things. I haven’t read the other two books but I’ve heard good things. The problem is that he presents Join Me as something that happened on the spur of the moment, almost by accident. That sense of randomness is part of the appeal but looking at Danny’s record I slightly suspect that he might have had a book in mind all along. This is a minor point and the story will sweep you along.
Even if Danny isn’t quite the innocent that he presents himself as his joinees are real people. They decide to ‘join’ a complete stranger, initially for reasons unknown and then in a quest to spread kindness. We learn about their lives and the strange but positive web of relationships that Join Me draws them into.
This is a very funny book. I’ve genuinely laughed out loud a few times which I don’t normally do when reading because people look at you. They might even want to know what the joke is and I find that rarely goes well.
The humour comes tinged with ideas that will make you think about life. The first joinees are simply looking for something to connect to. Later on the movement becomes an excuse to be nice to random strangers. As Danny says it’s almost like he gave people permission to be kind. Are we all looking for connections? Are we all waiting for permission or an excuse to be nicer to each other?
Join Me is funny and thought-provoking but probably less spontaneous than it pretends to be. On balance I would recommend it.