In Praise of the Perfect Reading Partner


As summer ends and I begin to come out of my hermit cave, I’m finally in a mood to talk about all the books I’ve been voraciously devouring over the past few months. This desire, and the ensuing discussions (or sometimes lack thereof), has led me to a greater appreciation of my reading buddies and the extent to which they enrich my reading experience.

Susan Wise-Bauer mentions in her book The Well Educated Mind that reading is about dialogue and persuasion; the book persuading the reader, and the reader engaging in an internal dialogue with the ideas in the book. When a reader engages in active reading the dialogue is more than just internal–the reader communicates his thoughts outwardly. The outward communication can take the form of journaling, but the best communication happens when you have a third party: a reading partner.

A reading partner is someone who provides motivation and accountability when you’re reading a challenging book, but they are much more than that. A good reading partner will enrich your reading experience. Wise-Bauer writes that “a reading partner forces you to use words precisely to define your terms.” But most importantly, “when you are looking back through the book for answers to questions about the writer’s ideas, your reading partner can talk to you about those ideas.”

The thing about reading is that most of the time it is a solitary experience. Now don’t get me wrong, that solitary nature is a huge part of its charm. I think many die-hard readers are encouraged in their passion because they can read alone. Some of us actually enjoy being alone. That said, humans are at their core social animals, there’s no escaping it. And sometimes we want to share this amazing passion with others.

But as any avid reader will tell you, more often than not, sharing that passion with others can lead to disappointment. Having your reading partner not like a book you absolutely loved is not at all the worst response one can get. The worst response one can get to sharing a reading experience with another is for that other person to give a lukewarm “Oh yeah, that book was okay.”

Excuse me? That’s the best response you can come up with? I’m a passionate reader and I want a passionate response! I want a nice “Oh yeah, I loved that book!” Even a “What?? That book was terrible!” would be preferable to a mere lukewarm acknowledgment. And even if you did only think it was “okay” (because let’s be honest, some books do only inspire a lukewarm response) it would be nice to have a little more thought in your answer; “Oh, I only thought that book was okay because…” or “that book just didn’t draw me in, what I really wanted was for the author to…”

I guess that’s what I look for in a reading partner, and what I appreciate so much about the reading buddies I do have: passion and depth, a concrete opinion. So this post is for my reading buddies out there–thank you for everything you bring to my reading experience, and to my life. You are what make the reading life extraordinary.

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3 thoughts on “In Praise of the Perfect Reading Partner

  1. That puts it in to words so well. I agree, it's always disappointing when my husband just doesn't care about what I'm currently reading. And that's why I too, love book blogging. I've added Wise-Bauer's book to my list. It sounds like a thoughtful look at why we read. Are you/Did you enjoy it?

  2. Aimee and Rebecca, Thank you for your comments! I've found that my husband, for all his wonderful qualities, is not my reading partner. He doesn't love to read the way I do, and his genres of choice are different than mine. So although he and I share many things, my "reading buddies" are other passionate people in my life.And Rebecca, Susan Wise-Bauer's book is absolutely wonderful! If you haven't read it, put down whatever you are reading at this moment and read that one. Or at least read Part One immediately. It will improve your reading experience ten-fold. Even if you feel you "already know all this stuff" as I felt (having a degree in English and literature and all), it will reinvigorate your excitement for reading actively. Part two can be read piecemeal depending on which genre you are delving into at any given time.I'd love to hear what you think after you've read it, please come back and let me know your opinion!

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