Buddy Read: How (& Why) to Host Your Own

The month of March became the month I lost my Outlander virginity (oh, boy, did I!) and the second buddy read I’ve participated in. In short, neither was a disappointment and as I gear up for round two, I’ve been reflecting on what makes the buddy-reading experience so wonderful.

First things first: What the heck is a “buddy read”? Well, friends, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a couple of buddies reading the same book at the same time (or at a relatively similar pace) and discussing the book as they go.

There are a handful of ways to tackle a buddy read, but today I’m going to focus on my two (very different) buddy reading experiences. I’m a firm believer in sharing what works for me on the off chance that it might work for others, hence this post.

Buddy Read Experience #1: The Slow-Chat Method

My first time around, I fell into a buddy read by chance via the social-media-for-book-lovers app, Litsy. I had recently acquired the novel Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich and stumbled upon the account of one of a few co-hosts for the buddy read. The method was straight-forward enough: the hosts broke the book into three parts and scheduled allotments of time by which readers should complete those parts. (I think we ended up spanning 4 weeks?) At the end of each “part” and its respective length of time, the hosts posted 4-5 questions on Litsy and those participating chimed in with their thoughts, questions, observations, etc.

This format may work well for some; but it definitely wasn’t for me. Here’s why:

  • The use of social media to host our discussions made for delayed, hasty attempts to convey deep thought in short chunks. There isn’t a chat feature on Litsy (maybe there is now, it’s been a few months since I’ve been on — thanks, Bookstagram), so all of our conversations took place in the comments section of a post. Talk about a headache!
  • Since conversations took place publicly, there was more risk of spoiling the book for others. In Litsy, there is a fabulous feature that allows users to mark comments and reviews as “spoilers,” but even so — when you’re caught up in a book discussion, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has read the book and therefore forget to mark spoilers.
  • It felt vastly impersonal. Lots of people participated — maybe ten total — and I was only “familiar” with a couple. This is seemingly a minute issue to have when it comes to talking over the finer points of a book with others; but for me, it made the experience more superficial. I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings if I said something too harshly, because I didn’t know the other readers.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to buddy read; the method just wasn’t for me. I felt like I was tied to my phone when the conversations were happening, and since the comment-method was so dependent on the speed of other users, discussions took hours. Since I’m married and have a little one, it’s just not realistic for me to drag out a conversation that long.

Buddy Read Experience #2: The Video-Chat Method

My second go-round also came about thanks to social media; this time, however, due to some random comments on an Instagram picture I posted in January. I had taken a “shelfie” to post on my Bookstagram account and asked a question that I didn’t *really* expect to get any replies to: “See any favorites on my shelves?” Two users I hadn’t really interacted with before pointed out my copy of Outlander, both of them mentioning that they had the same title on their shelves but they were daunted by its length. I suggested a buddy read, they thought that sounded fun, and we went our separate ways for a few weeks.

In February, though, I knew I wanted to read the book so I reached out to see if they were interested in starting it in March. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t know each other’s reading abilities or needs, and the other two had never participated in a buddy read before — so our initial chat conversations were stilted a bit. I suggested that we break the reading into chunks, see how the first bit went pace-wise, and set weekly video-chat dates when we had a better feel for pacing.

This method quickly became my idea of the Gold Standard of Buddy Reading. Here’s why it works:

  • We were able to use a group chat via Instagram for as-you-go banter and observations. I can’t tell you how many times I received a message from Taylor or Betsy that made me snort with laughter or flush the deepest of reds. As much as I enjoyed this component of our buddy read, though . . .
  • Our video chats became the highlight of my week — and one of the best parts of the reading experience. Usually we aimed for weekends while Henry was napping (I live in Kansas, and they’re back East, so I was constantly thanking them for accommodating not just my time zone, but also my kid’s sleep schedule). We used Google Hangouts, mostly because I was familiar with the platform and I knew we’d be able to have 3+ people in our video calls. These “face-to-face” discussions were much more fluid, easier to navigate, and lent an air of familiarity to our reading experience.
  • Because we were meeting via video chats, I came to consider the other two girls my friends. We learned a bit about each other, which made our book discussions more open: no need to fear stepping on anyone’s toes.
  • And again — video chats meant that I could plan for an hour or two of scheduled discussion time each week while my husband was working and my kid was sleeping. I didn’t need to feel guilty about being on my phone nonstop or ignoring them for an extended period of time.

Here’s a few tips to get your own buddy read established:

  1. Find a couple of people with interest in reading the same book as you (OR people who share similar reading tastes). 
  2. Keep the grouping small: more people = more opinions, yes; but too many readers and you’ll end up chatting for an entire day. Nobody’s got time for that.
  3. Incorporate a messaging tool for as-you-read chats. We used Instagram’s private messaging system, but I can also see this working well via iMessages or text messages. In fact, I may eventually suggest we switch to iMessages because I’m all about that GIF life and IG just isn’t there yet.
  4. Be flexible. In the first buddy read I did, dates to have finished reading by were already established and since I was in the middle of some other books, I sometimes didn’t quite get the selections finished in time. Since Taylor and Betsy and I opted to start slow and get a feel for the book and each other’s reading needs, there wasn’t any guilt about not being fast enough or not getting the text finished in time. Again, this is where a small group comes in handy: no need to cater to fourteen readers’ needs.
  5. Find a video-chat platform that works for everyone. Google Hangouts is easily accessible via phone, tablet, or computer; but you do have to utilize Google Chrome or the app. Zoom is another great tool for multi-person video calls.
  6. Mark passages as you go and search for reader’s guide discussion questions — but don’t limit your talking points to a strict set of discussion points. Our video chats were hilarious and so much fun — mostly because no one was operating on a script or felt the need to address specific questions.

One more thing before you leave: the why of buddy reads. I don’t want to buddy read everything that comes my way — trust me, I don’t have the patience to read every single book at a pace that suits someone else — but I do plan to buddy read a few times a year, from here on out. Why? It’s simple: buddy reading forces me to take books into deeper consideration, like I did in my English-major college days. I’m a voracious reader and often get through 2-3 books per week . . . but I don’t like that I’m not always challenging myself to meaningfully examine each book that comes my way. Buddy reading is the perfect solution, and a great way to make new friends in the process.

Now tell me — what’s a big book that’s been daunting you for years, or a title you’re otherwise interested in buddy reading?