Buddy Reading Compatibility Quotient
Buddy what...buddy why?
Until a few years ago, I had never heard of this term, "buddy reading"/ "buddy reads". I knew about book clubs, of course, where people get together, choose a book they all agree to read over a span of time only to regroup and see how many didn't read it at all. For many people, it's a means of socializing with friends, plus books. For the vast majority of people, that is enough.
But what if you are someone who always shows up eagerly to your book club shindig, with your notes in hand, book brimming with Post It stickies and tabs for sections to read out, and even bringing along a list of other books that would pair nicely with said book being discussed? How often have you been disappointed that the brief book talk only happens after the appetizers, drinks, dinner, dessert, more drinks and coffee? How can you have the experience you are deeply seeking- someone to really read a book together with you and have those meaningful, enlightening conversations that you have always hoped for?
My friend, buddy reading was made for you. It's for next level bibliophiles and readers. It's for those of us who live, breathe, eat and sleep books. Simply put, you and another person (or more), pick a book, determine a check in schedule and share observations and ideas as you are reading the book. That's the key- you both read to a specific point then chat about it. It's brilliant. Talking about the books as you read them, not just after each has finished is the magic. After you close your book, it's done. Very rarely will someone go back and reread a passage or section based on a conversation with someone else.
But with a buddy read, because you are talking about it as you go, you have an opportunity to see another's perspective in almost real time, and definitely in enough time to think about it more as the book progresses. A great buddy reading experience will show you things you would have missed and/or allow you to question your assumptions about the material. It could also allow you to gush over a book that you are loving with someone who may match your enthusiasm, sigh for sigh.
Why hadn't I heard of this term until I started actively following people on the bastion of YouTube known colloquially as BookTube, where the content is all books, all the time? Well, because normal people barely want to be accountable to read one book and talk about it, let alone read a book and talk about it as you progress through it. I have been an obsessive kind of reader my whole life. The fact that I never knew about this makes me sad for all the years I missed when I could have been reading with brilliant friends.
I jumped into this new way of reading with both feet almost two years ago. I posted a video with a list of 4 books that I wanted to read but was frankly intimidated by and thought that I would benefit from another pair of eyes on the work. I was delighted when so many people reached out and called dibs on which books they wanted to read with me! I was off to the races and never looked back.
What Kind of Buddy Reader Are You, Really?
There has been a lot of talk on BookTube today about buddy reads, including in my own video where I shared my dismay (but understanding) when my dear friend Leo told me he just couldn't bear reading further in a series we were stuck in. (In Search of Lost Time, indeed!) And there were other conversations I saw around buddy reading which got me thinking more on this subject.
What kind of buddy reader am I? Let me see if I can parse that out.
On my reading approach:
I am a poly-biblio, meaning I like to read more than one book at a time. (I just made that word up. Feel free to use it if you like.)
I have huge reading goals, but don't like to be restricted by a TBR (to be read) pile determined in advance.
I can commit to a few buddy reads a month, but need the freedom to read other things as well.
I am a mood reader and like to satisfy my curiosity by bouncing from one book to another.
On my reading pace:
I am a pretty fast reader, but when I read with others, I don't like to go too quickly because I want to make sure I can add something of value to the conversation.
It's more important to me that I follow what I am reading than that I finish at a specific time. I would rather ask for a day or two longer to check in than pretend I have finished it just to meet the deadline.
I am not one who is comfortable pulling a buddy reading schedule in to finish more quickly. (See poly-biblio above.) Chances are that I have a wall of books I am reading around the same time as this one and to change the schedule means altering the pace for the rest which gets complicated.
I don't read a fixed number of pages a day. I pick up what is most pressing to me and read until I read a natural stopping point in the text, or I hit the check-in mark, or if I have had enough of that book and would like to pick up another one I am currently reading, or frankly if my eyes are lidding. I don't know why but the idea of a set number pages a day makes me itchy.
On what I look for in a reading partnership
I hope to learn about the person through the act of reading together. If I agree to a buddy read, it means I am curious about them. I am a private person so I don't often ask people things about their lives for fear of intruding. But I am willing to share some details of myself if they are relevant to the text, and inform why I am interpreting the work in a specific way. I hope that my buddy would do the same.
I expect to have a good amount of back and forth conversation in the check-ins. For me, the check-in is a conversation starter. I will ask questions and respond to points my buddy has made and want them to do that also with me.
I am eternally grateful when a buddy reader has knowledge or experience in something related to the book. It's a plus, but not always expected.
On how I read:
I love to talk about structure, themes, characters, plot, allusions to other works, and the like in a check-in. I often miss symbols and motifs, so I am always grateful when people catch that.
If a book is well crafted at the sentence level, I love sharing sentences that stood out to me, and love hearing which ones resonated with my buddy.
I don't tend to skim a book- if I find I am doing that, I will just mark it DNF (did not finish) and move on to something that will keep my interest.
I don't need to "like" a book, or even be enjoying it to be stimulated intellectually by the material. I tend to be a curious reader- often wondering why authors make certain decisions so I tend to have a high tolerance for a book that others may not be as willing to stick with.
On buddy reading logistics:
No surprise if you have read this long, but I prefer a longer schedule than a shorter one.
The check in points for a book are very important to me, because it can completely change the flow of a book, and most of it will need to be up to the fates. There are so many ways of doing this and since it's probably a book you don't know much about, you have to go in expecting that you may not be dividing it up in the best way. Regardless, you will read the full book and discuss it, which is really what matters in the end.
For your tomes and mammoths of 500+ pages, it's hard for me to complete them in a month's time without sacrificing other reads. I can do this during work holidays, but if I am working and reading, I prefer to expand the reading over 1.5 to 2 months.
For books ranging from 350 to 500 pages, which are generally the size of most of my buddy reads, I would suggest a month-long schedule, broken up over the number of check in days of the week the month allows. Ex- if there are 5 Thursdays in the month, I would divide the book into 5 equal parts. I then go to my copy, and look for how the text is structured. This is where things can get complicated. Marcel Proust, for In Search of Lost Time series, doesn't use chapters, per se. He has sections which could be hundreds of pages long. Ali Smith would sometimes use chapter numbers and then none (no number and no chapter title), in the same book, as she did with The Seasonal Quartet. In each of these cases, I would start at the page number for the first break and physically go forwards and backwards a few pages to see if there was a natural stopping point within about 20 pages + or -. If not, just wing it and make sure your partner knows the last sentence and the first sentence around a certain page, keeping in mind you are probably going to be reading different editions.
For smaller books, like the Anita Brookner project I am doing with Leo, all her work is around 250 pages, and contain only 15-20 chapters, so we find that reading 3 chapters at a time is the best way. And with that one, we will be flexible because it goes so fast and while we will agree on a start date, we do not set check-in dates but let it happen when one gets to the spot. Then one of us will leave a message and the other will listen to it when they are done, leaving their thoughts and responses. Then we move onto the next 3 chapters. We tend to have a ton to talk about with Ms. Brookner's work, so we can go back and forth for a bit then agree to move on when the conversation winds down.
Like most people who do these, I use the Voxer mobile app and I like the process of writing the words "Check In" and sending it before leaving my voice message. I prefer that method in one to one buddy reads so I don't see a spoiler if I look at the chat before I am ready to check-in. If it's all in text, I will see it versus the voice message hidden until I am ready. That also let's me know if they are ready to move on or if the message could be about something else.
But I also know that others prefer to write out their thoughts vs speak them and of course I will not request someone change their preferred method of communication but would probably not look at the app conversation until I was ready to chat.
Regarding structuring the check in itself: I like to check in first with overall impressions, then dive into the chapter/section specifics. If there are enlightening or beautiful sentences, I will share them at that time.
While it's usually not the case with longer books, we will agree when we are ready to move onto the next section so that one person isn't left wanting to say more but feels rushed, or cut off prematurely.
If I think that one of us isn't clicking with the book, I will propose ending it. In my opinion, leaving should always be an option for each of us without any shame or guilt.
So if I put all of that together, I think I work best if I am reading a work that has enough substance for deep conversation, and I have someone who is open to both having a longer reading duration to complete the book (checking in once maybe twice a week at most) and is willing to share a little bit about themselves as we are reading together. A great buddy reader will help me see the book in new ways as we go, and be as curious in my view as their own. They will be honest if they need more time or aren't wanting to read further, but will do their best to make the dates we set. Now, an exceptional buddy reader will keep me in the loop even after we finish the book if new information comes out on the book we read or the author, or if there is another book that would be good for us to possibly read together again (but not be upset if the timing doesn't work out).
What buddy reads wouldn't work for me? If we would need to read a book almost exclusively to keep a schedule with multiple check-ins a week. In that scenario, I will likely not be living my best buddy read life. If I don't feel like I have connected with the person during the experience, and I am just listening to their thoughts and entering mine without any further conversations, then it's not the experience I am hoping for, in all honesty. If we aren't sharing and learning from each other, then why do it?
I also think that someone who immediately takes a stance on a book may not be a good fit for me. I reserve my judgements and like to observe a book for a while before I make declarations (hence why I call myself a curious reader). Finally I would also say that someone who wanted to talk about other things other than the book itself for a majority of our check ins would not necessarily be a good partner for me if it's our first reading experience together. It's been a delight when true friendships have grown through the experience of reading together, but I have learned that they aren't guaranteed, despite the clear passion we may share for reading.
I am so lucky that I can only name on one hand the few times it hasn't been a fit for me. Most people I would love to read with again, if my pesky job didn't suck up about 60 hours of my week! (If you think this section is about you, I can guarantee it is not. In the cases of the people I am thinking of, the incompatibility was so glaringly obvious that I don't think they want to read with me again either!)
Ultimately, I am not prescribing "buddy read rules" here, just recording my observations, thoughts and preferences. There are infinite ways so do a buddy read and I am sure many people would find my method too slow, too methodical, and maybe even too intense. (They are probably right.) Which reminds me of a favorite quote:
I think the most important thing I want to impart here in this post is that knowing your buddy read style before accepting or asking for a buddy read can go a long way in ensuring you get the maximum reading experience for you. There are so many people who I admire and like that I don't think would partner well with in a buddy read scenario, and that's perfectly ok. The reason I do it is because when it works, it's absolute magic!
Questions You Can Ask Yourself About Your Buddy Reading Style
Here are some ideas of questions you can ask yourself and your potential buddy reading partner to see if you are compatible:
How fast do you want to read this book?
What do you like to look for in books?
What do you like to talk about in your check-ins?
Do you like to do a close read or do you prefer to read and absorb what you can as you go?
Do you prepare for your buddy read check-ins or are they off-the-cuff?
Do you need/want to keep to a proposed schedule or would you prefer to be flexible?
If you are loving the book, are you tempted to read ahead despite having a schedule? And would that impact the buddy read?
Do you want to read a set number of pages or a set number of chapters/sections?
So that's it!
I would love to know if you do buddy reads and what your style and approach for reading with someone is? If you haven't done it before, what's prevented you from doing it? If this is entirely new to you, is it something that appeals?
Let me know if you would like me to document my thoughts on group reads, which I think are a little different than the tight group of a buddy read model.
However you read, I hope the books on your bedside are delighting you at the moment. Happy reading!