Reading is not as private as some might think. Readers crave conversation and will go to great lengths to get it. When we lived in Oceanside, I paid a couple hundred dollars to take a class at UCSD Extension and drove 45 minutes to get there after a full work day. Did I need the credits? Hardly. The class description indicated a couple really interesting books were required and I wanted to discuss them with others. This was a glorified book club that I was willing to pay for! How many of you have done something similar for the sake of conversation?
This is why you need a reading partner. Heck, this is why you need multiple reading partners. Some people call them friends, but there is discipline that comes with agreeing to read a book with someone. We’ll talk about what to look for in a reading partner soon, but for now, let me urge you to find one or more partners to share your reading experiences with.
We are relational beings, and whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you probably crave the kind of conversation that comes from these shared experiences.
Every person needs a reading partner to share experiences with to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
Cultivating the Intellect
Perhaps you are familiar with the current academic trend of flipping the classroom? Instead of the traditional model where students hold the professor on a pedestal, they are given more authority in their learning experience, which in turn encourages them to take more initiative in their learning process. Said more simply, the aim is to move the learner from a passive listener to an active participant in their educational pursuit.
Think-pair-share is an example of this and many professors will use this to help students solidify concepts taught in class. After the instructor lectures on a concept for 10-20 minutes, they ask the student to write a few thoughts (think), find a partner (pair), and explain their reaction to the concept (share).
This academic trend points to a deep need students have to share and discuss what they learn. Somewhere along the line, professors realized students weren’t performing this vital part of their education outside of the classroom anymore, so they now carve out precious classroom minutes to make it happen. Professors have found students perform better on tests and discuss more complex ideas in papers they write after implementing this model.
For this reason, I urge you to find a reading partner to discuss anything and everything you read. This will help you solidify concepts, apply the text to your life, and contribute to your overall comprehension and retention of whatever book you read together.
In other words, you will get more bang for your buck.
If you read this blog, it’s more than likely you take reading seriously or would like to. My hope is that you are willing to read challenging texts, and when you do, your reading partner will have knowledge and expertise that you don’t. If you are not able to learn from one another, then it’s not a partnership.
Reading with someone is a vulnerable exercise. You are exposing your emotions and intellect to someone and sharing parts of you that might never come up in conversation.
If you are reading fiction, you might admit to empathizing with a character facing a certain temptation or relating to the flaw that ruins the happily ever after ending. Whatever the case, it is absolutely crucial that you trust your reading partner because these deep emotional connections are what bring us back to reading again and again.
When people call reading their escape, this is why. It’s not because it’s mindless, but because the experience is sublime. It transports them to another world. Connecting emotionally to the text AND talking about it with a friend will help your retention.
Connecting emotionally to material also increases retention and teaches empathy. If you weren’t particularly moved by a certain passage, but your reading partner was and shares that with you, you are more likely to feel strongly about that passage the next time you recall it. When my book club read Unbroken a few months ago, my friend cried when the Bird hurt the duck. And even though I didn’t feel as strongly about it the first time I read it, the more I thought about how the duck represented hope for the prisoners of war, the more I realized how despairing that season of captivity was for them. Not only that, but it makes me love my friend even more for being so in tune with the characters in the book and allowed me to recognize how big her heart is.
Reading with a partner allows you to connect with the literature AND your partner on a deeper level.
The intellect and emotions are intimately tied to one’s spiritual beliefs. The old adage that says it’s rude to bring up politics or religion has absolutely no place here. It’s impossible to read a decent book with a partner without discussing what you believe about the character of God and how the book challenges or affirms those beliefs.
This, too, contributes to the deep bond and connection you’ll have with whomever you choose to read with. It doesn’t happen overnight, especially in a cultural moment where certain belief systems are considered hateful. But over time, these kinds of attitudes will come to light and be celebrated in conversation.
A friend of mine recently asked how what I believed spiritually contributed to my reading of House of Leaves. The most striking part of this book related to what I suspect the author believes about God and how it’s revealed so subtly in the text.
It comes in the form of a drunken letter from Navy to Karen when Navy says the house is God. Right after that statement, text is missing, and then Navy pokes fun at the fact that he just called God a street address. Nonetheless, we come to understand this character considers God an all-powerful, all-knowing, shape-shifting, physics-defying, monster. How is my God different? Let me count the ways…
The hard part with any text is recognizing where it taps into hard truths about some of the deepest parts of us. Do I think God is a monster? No, however, I have thrown my share of questions his way when I allow my circumstances to dictate what I believe about his character. This is a human reaction, especially to hard circumstances, but the more we talk about God’s character as revealed in scripture as it relates to what we are reading, the fuller the picture we have for who He is.
Whether you believe the author is dead or not, the text will point to his or her own attitudes about God and teach us more about our own existence in relation to God.
I read different books with different people for different reasons, but I am always looking to connect with the mind of the author, the motivations of the characters, and intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually with whomever I am reading a book with.
What about you? Have you read a book with someone recently and connected in any of these ways? What do you typically read with friends?