Gaps in Time and Space; Filled with Pages / Some Thoughts on Collective Reading

Most of the time when I zone out and daydream, I think of bookclub meetings. Dark furniture, elbow patches, spectacles, red wine, black ink spilling out of notebooks stuffed with loose leaf pages, maybe a haze of smoke. Not that I know any readers who smoke inside dimly lit rooms, but it sets the right mood you understand. Muted conversation and subtle hand gestures will give way to shouts and wild flails as we dig deeper in to the plot and into the bottles(s) of booze. This specific, romantic idea has bounced around in my head for years; these shadowy rooms filled with books and conversation. Life’s secrets revealed, but only to those of us pretentious enough and brave enough who dared to ask the questions.

My book club reality for years was a monthly Skype date in which my oldest friends and I sat alone on our couches with beer and pajamas. We talked about our dogs and movies and most of the time, a bit of the book. These quickly became my favorite nights because of the raucous giggles and memories that arose. Any time a bookclub is formed among childhood friends who lost touch after high school but regained familiarity at a strange wedding of a different high school friend, there’s sure to be many ‘remember whens’ involved. Also, Skype is some real shit and we had to deal with many a dropped call and frozen screens. Somehow, the screen only ever freezes mid-sneeze or eye roll, also only on double chins…

My book club reality now is a group of work friends who read and meet for coffee or boba tea once a month. When I was blogging, I’d make sure to write out discussion questions and post so we’d have a starting off point for meetings. Somewhere to begin the conversation, especially since there are so many of us who need to speak. Discussion
questions give the meeting a focus. It’s less of a free for all. My old book club was only three people, talking in quiet homes over the internet. Now we have such a large groups that sometimes we can’t physically sit close enough to hear all the members. In person meetings are infinitely superior to online meetings though. Real time talk is so fulfilling and seeing people in person and knowing they are in front of you and can react to your heartfelt feelings on books. Being unable to hear clearly, but still getting the main points sure beats the hell out of 10 minutes of a frozen Skype screen waiting for your friends to come back into focus. *Eyes crossed and chin doubled, of course.

Something I’ve discovered recently is the buddy read. A one on one reading experience with constant updates and no set meeting once the book concludes. I buddy read a few times with a friend of mine who lives by the coast. We’d go through our shelves together while on FaceTime, picking out and talking about five books each. Then we’d settle on one to read together, texting updates daily.

Lately I’ve been buddy reading with a friend of mine living in NY. Buddy reads are so good for long-distance relationships. I love the constant contact; it’s the perfect pairing of needing to talk about the plot of our books and the plot of our lives. With bookclubs, we’ve always waited until everyone was done, so there would be nothing spoiled. Keeping silent about exciting plot points for a whole month while waiting for everyone to finish is tough. Buddy reading is more like a fun race. Best when you can be the one to say, “Wait until you get to page 49!” Then you get texts like this one I got from Natalie saying, “She shot him? IN THE HEAD?”  *I won’t tell you the book, because spoilers. It’s the best kind of anticipation though. Waiting to catch up or for someone to catch up to you in a story. I think it only makes reading better when there’s the anticipation not only of the next chapter, but getting to talk about the next chapter. Too often I’ve forgotten so much of a book by the time a large bookclub meets. 

For our recent WWII reads, we started a shared Pinterest board to pin images from the real places and time periods we were reading about; also, what we thought the characters looked like. Snapchat and texting updates come in the form of a picture of an open book showing that day’s progress or something like, “I cried on the train today.” There’s more immediate touch points in a buddy read. These updates and online developments have become our primary form of opening a conversation. Soon things bleed into real life. We transition to normal conversation, but we are always firmly grounded in the world of what we’re reading. 

“I just got to the torture part. Rene can burn in hell.”
“Oh you’ll hate him even more later”
“You know what I hate, melons…” 

I think it’s allowed our friendship to shift with each book. We’ve started lovingly calling each other sestra, a Russian term of endearment from The Huntress novel. I named my car the Rusalka from the same book; a Russian myth that I never would have heard of otherwise. Also our pet names have turned into Russian nicknames; Dimocha and Natocha / the moon sestras. We’re reading about a deadly Alaska virus next, so who knows what weird things we’ll begin to say to each other.

I’m ready though, wherever the pages take us. 


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