Teatime: Group Reads

Growing up, I always thought of reading as a solitary activity. It was what I did at recess instead of playing with the other kids, my escape from the homework I didn’t want to do, and my excuse not to take up a sport. (Who needed adventures of your own when you had books?) And beyond needing my parents to take me to the library, it was yet another thing that I could do independently from a young age. 

But over the years I found through in-class “book groups” — and more importantly, online fandom activity, i.e. Tumblr and Goodreads — that I actually quite enjoy discussing books that I’ve read or am currently reading. (Blogging is a social activity, of course, but there’s some degree of removal: comments on your review, or even your periodic GR updates, don’t tend to lead to in-depth discussion.)

So I recently joined the YA Buddy Readers’ Corner on Goodreads, and I’ve been a member of Howl’s Moving Book Club since its inception last November. Having spent the past few months doing a mix of group and solitary reads, I have a lot of thoughts on how they compare.


Book Clubs vs. Buddy Reads

You’ve probably heard of, and maybe even participated in, a book club: a group of people who read the same book around the same time and discuss it. They might meet in person every week or every month, or chat online; they might set a certain number of chapters to read every week, or allow everyone to read at their own pace. (Howl’s Moving Book Club does the latter — since we pick books through member nominations and votes, there are usually people who have already read the book, and as with any group some are faster readers than others, so we set up our Slack channels to hide spoilers but allow everyone to discuss wherever they’re at.) The setup is based on the group of people rather than the book; after the current read is finished, another will be chosen and the process continues.

A buddy read, on the other hand, is typically a smaller group (as few as two; the largest I’ve seen is 4-5) who arrange to read a single book or series together. This tends to be a much shorter commitment, though if you hit it off you can certainly arrange more buddy reads with the same person(s)! You might find that you discuss in greater detail than with a book club, since depending on your agreement you might set specific times when you’re both reading the book and discussing as you go, or you might check in periodically; or you may find that your partner(s) doesn’t really have much to say about the book.

Benefits of Group Reads

Discovering new reads. Participating in group reads has introduced me to lots of books I might never have discovered on my own. Sure, there’s Goodreads and other book bloggers, but that’s the other extreme: there are so many recommendations out there that it can be difficult to know where to start. Group reads offer fewer choices, which paradoxically makes it easier to settle on one. (Or two, or three…)

Getting through my To-Be-Read list. On the other hand, buddy reads have also helped me commit to my reading order. While I do read other books in between and concurrently with my group reads, I’ve committed to reading certain books on certain days; this reduces the time I spend paging indecisively through my eBook collection between books and helps me get through titles already on my TBR (especially when they belong to a series, because I have a bad habit of moving on after the first book and forgetting to come back to it). 

More deliberate reading. With books I’ve already read, I get to vicariously experience it for the first time again, and see the narrative through a different lens — whether that’s through my reading partners’ opinions/interpretations or the simple fact that I’m reading more slowly, keeping an eye out for interesting things to discuss. With first-time reads, I’m motivated not to skim to get to exciting parts, but rather to keep an eye out for interesting discussion points, or even to stop and think about what might happen next or what a character might be thinking.

Drawbacks of Group Reads

Too much commitment? If you’re in a buddy-read group like the one I mentioned earlier, you may find yourself agreeing to too many buddy reads, and feeling stressed out as a result. Or you may feel pressured to finish a book that you don’t like, or that the need to discuss/analyze your reading feels too much like schoolwork and takes the fun out of reading. 

Discussion vs. disagreement. I don’t know about you, but I get really attached to and defensive of certain characters and interpretations. While I’m not opposed to a good debate, sometimes you’ll find yourself in fundamental disagreement with the rest of your reading group — and when it gets personal, as reading can so easily be, there’s potential for hurt feelings.

Pacing. Even as early as elementary school, I’d finish the book the first day I brought it home, then spent the next month and half trying to remember where we left off so I didn’t tempt my teachers to make good on their promises to hang you from the ceiling by your shoelaces for spoilers. And I still find it difficult to stick to a strict pacing schedule, which sometimes makes me feel guilty or worry about spoiling something — but this is avoidable through clear communication before you begin!

My Conclusions

At the end of the day, your reading experience really just depends on what you make of it. Establishing your expectations — e.g., how detailed and how frequent you want your discussions to be, whether you’re setting up a reading schedule, whether it’s okay to opt out partway through if you don’t like the book — and setting boundaries for yourself — e.g., the maximum number of group reads you’ll participate in at once, whether you’ll continue to argue or instead disengage when the discussion takes a touchy turn — can help make your group read a more positive experience. But of course you’re not obligated to participate in any, or to continue participating if you’re uncomfortable for any reason, and you can make the choice to quit at any point.

And hey, if you love the idea of group reads but don’t want to ruin your literary enjoyment with social interaction, you can always start a book club for one.


If you’ve participated in any kind of group read, how was your experience?
Do you have a preference between individual reads, buddy reads, and book clubs? If you haven’t, would you want to try it out?

45 thoughts on “Teatime: Group Reads

  1. I absolutely suck in online group reads, I tend to forget about them. I am participating in offline book clubs and for now it was fine. However, I’m not sure if I have to withdraw from one or two after starting my job, but time will tell. With one bookclub it often happens that not everyone manage to finish the book due to time and work. But that’s fine, since we always happen to not discuss the book in depth 😂

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    1. that makes sense! I actually participate least in my offline book club just because scheduling and transportation is a hassle, but yes I love the flexibility – some chapters we get deep into philosophical dilemmas, and others we just rant about how much we want to strangle certain characters!

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  2. Hmmm I kinda flop at reading with others, mostly because if I’m not in the mood to read I won’t read…that and my reading pace is fast. Although Sam and I did an impromptu buddy read last year, because I needed someone to shriek about on the book I was reading, she kindly got it and we began reading. Luckily we share a very similar reading pace, so we were able to keep up. It was super fun too but other than that, I’m super bad at buddy reading. sighs maybe it’s also because I like reading a book in one go usually rolls Awesome post Izzy!

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    1. thanks Clo! 💕 pacing is definitely a struggle. my IRL best friend and I have an agreement that if one of us recommends a book, when the other finally gets around to reading it she’s allowed to scream/freak out over text as she goes, and that seems to work pretty well for us 😂

      and yup, I’m with you there – it’s just so much easier to remember what’s happening in the book and how you feel about all the characters when you read it in one go!

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  3. I feel bad because I do tend to read at my own pace so with group reads (whether clubs or buddy reads) that set chunk or chapter discussion goals, I tend to be way off timing-wise and then I lurk or make less productive comments for discussions. I love hearing (reading) people talk about books and I’m definitely an encourager and am all about community, but I’m just not the talkative or leadership or A-personality type for these things. Part of me feels bad, but I don’t really get bad vibes in the groups I join?? So…I’m always torn.

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    1. reading is definitely a very individual experience from person to person! but I think as long as your reading partners are on the same page (figuratively speaking 😜) about what you want to get out of a group read and everyone has fun, that’s really all that matters 💖

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  4. Really great discussion post! Personally I love reading alone because my reading pace is so random. Sometimes I read a book in a sitting, or a day, or it can take a month. And then I go online because SOMEONE in the book community has read it and then go and talk with them about it! But I also like buddy reads for books I think I’ll feel meh or really like. Not ones I am guessing I will love because then I will want to read it ahead and not wait for my buddy, but if I think I’ll be able to control myself I LOVE discussion with people and buddy reads.

    I really think that book clubs aren’t for me. I rarely have the book and am a lot of the time not interested in the book? So with buddy reads its more catered to what YOU want to read with your buddy, I feel.

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  5. I found I can only participate in a book club if I’m leading it. So far, I led two. It’s a shitload of commitment to come up with discussion prompts and remember to make a post at the right time, but if I don’t lead, I often forget to participate and post at all.

    I’m a lot better with buddy reads, especially if they’re over discord (DMs or otherwise). Love them. Balancing out different reading speeds can be a challenge, but I’m used to it by now. I think they’re my favourite kind of group read.

    Currently, I’m also planning a series of readalong posts with another person, which are a bit like book clubs, but more elaborate, since each post is going to contain recaps of chapters and detailed analysis by both of us. It’s a lot of planning, especially since everything has to be pre-written before posting (due to schedule issues), which is going to take months. But I’m really excited for it!

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    1. that’s fair! my book club pre-sets a bunch of discussion prompt threads so people can jump in whenever they finish, which I’ve found works for me (but not everyone, since there are 40+ people in the Slack server but only like 5 or so who actually chat 👀)

      readalongs sound like a lot of fun! I hope they go well 💖

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  6. The part where people disagree about things in the book irks me the most. I’ve had buddy reads where I found out I really disliked a persons opinions and it pretty much ruined a friendship :’) But seeing other peoples views is also a great way to start looking at books differently, to pick up on things you might not have noticed if you had read the book on your own. I just need to finish the unread books in my bookcase before I commit to buying books for a book club :’)

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    1. oof. book discussions can be quite a litmus test for people’s crappy opinions, but it’s never fun having to let a friend go. absolutely agree about getting more perspectives though!

      and yup, part of why I signed up for too many BRs when I started out was because I was so excited about finally getting them off my TBR 😅

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  7. Great discussion post isabelle. I don’t do group reads much since i end up forgetting about them. But buddy reads always works for me. My buddy reads are always with my close friends so I haven’t really buddy read?!! So I love your post and wanna think about it😂❤❤❤❤

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  8. This was actually helpful to hear since I’ve considered participating in both. Although I suck at The committing to read at certain times and having to be done with a book quickly. So I think both are not for me . . . Which I assumed but this pretty much confirmed it lol

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    1. that’s fair! if you’re still interested in trying out group reads I wouldn’t want to discourage you though; you can definitely try to find reading buddies with similar mindsets 😉 for example, I have one BR going on where we check in every week or so, but with another partner we’re flexible with dates (read at your own pace) and just discuss whenever the slower reader catches up – there’s a lot of flexibility in smaller groups especially.

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  9. “Who needed adventures of your own when you had books?” THIS. But hey, we can take an adventure without moving so that’s a plus! Pretty sure our gym teachers aren’t thrilled about that, though.

    I used to be a part of book club, but I never thought of going beyond graduation and suggesting a Slack or Discord to keep in contact with each other until just now and um… it’s been 3 years? We’re not going to bring that up, haha. I really enjoy Buddy Reads, though, especially with fellow server members! 😀 What I do dislike is not being able to read ahead (because I’ll feel bad for doing so) with a group read or buddy read because schedules might not meet up, etc. Personally, I don’t mind because I read more than one book, though.

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  10. I wish i could join and commit to a book club! As i don’t live in UK/USA, most of the book club picks are not available here or are expensive. I also lack of commitment 😩 I tried reading the second boon of Apollo trials as a buddy read with a girl i met on bookstagram (that was in 2017) and we still haven’t discussed the last 5 chapters 🙃🙄😅

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    1. awww yeah it can definitely be hard getting copies of book club picks! (I do think buddy reads are better in that regard – you can arrange to read books you already own 😉)

      and haha honestly I can relate – I’m pretty sure I still owe my best friend some thoughts on The Raven King 😅

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  11. When I first joined Goodreads I was over the moon to see so many book clubs and joined them all and participated in ALL the group reads … and that didn’t end well 😀

    Nowadays I prefer Buddy Reads. I absolutely love reading and discussing books with other people. It works best though when both (or all) readers have a somewhat similar reading speed. It’s no problem if life gets in the way and I or the other person needs more time, but if it is clear from the very beginning that we would finish weeks apart I tend to lose what I love so much about Buddy reading a book. The possibility to immediately discuss my thoughts and feelings without a filter.

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  12. This is an interesting take on group reading and I really appreciate it. I’ve considered joining book clubs in the past but I’ve always been put off by the concept of being stuck into one book, your voice not being heard when you discuss it and/or the set time commitments that don’t really work with the rest of my life. Plus, what if I don’t like the people in them? Until recently I didn’t know there were online one’s so it’s cool to see that there’s more than just the old ladies version of book clubs out there to consider 🙂 Thank you again!

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  13. I tried out a few book clubs, none of them worked for me – in one, I read this ginormous 500+ page tome that wasn’t really my style, but I worked through it…only to get to the meeting and find it was more of a social gathering and NONE of the other ladies had read it. I suffered for nothing! Another group was objectively good, but the ladies were older than me, had a lot of history together and I felt like the odd one out. And the third had girls my age, but they got really clique-y and some became BFFs and again, I didn’t feel like I belonged. soooo I came to the conclusion that book clubs weren’t for me!

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  14. I find I love groups on goodreads so long as they’re flexible, but the only person I’ve ever done a buddy read with has been my husband but I encountered the same problem where I finished very early on and he hadn’t. Overall though like you I’ve come to realize it’s not just a solitary hobby and it feels kind of nice to have a community for it

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  15. I loved your discussion post! There are so many advantages to buddy reading. I find book clubs harder because you mightn’t have the book and would have to buy it to read with the rest of the group.

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  16. Personally I prefer to read on my own since I usually finish books fast and in one go. (I really suck at patience haha 😅) But I have done buddy reads with a couple of people who share the same interests as I do and have a similar reading schedule and it’s been pretty great!

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  17. I love this post, Isabelle! I fell hard for buddy and group reads late last year and really enjoy sharing the reading experience with a friend or small group of friends! I need to get a better balance though because too much of a good thing makes Kal a very anxious person and too many deadlines are bad hahaha

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  18. i’ve never been a part of a group read or anything even though i hope i will one day. i guess the ones i do find aren’t usually of books i want to read (and other times i just don’t know where to find reading groups). i think it would be fun to be part of a reading group for the discussion but i can see how it can get stressful. i think i would be that person who wants to be part of a couple of discussions and then end up not being able to handle it, i’m a sporadic reader most of the time xD like i might do good one time and i’ll think i can do well on like 2-3 more and then end up failing lol great post!

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  19. I’ve done a couple of both group reads and buddy reads. I don’t really know which one I preferred though. I felt like I stay on track better when it was with a group, shockingly (to myself). I think time is always the issue, as I don’t get to read a lot of books for leisure, and more for reviewing.

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  20. I LOVE THIS POST! It plays out all the points for a solitary reading to a buddy reading to a larger book club reading and I couldn’t have asked for more. Yes, it can get a little stressful at times but it’s also a lot of fun and I think people should certainly give it a try. Loved reading this post ❤

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