Book clubs for two

Discussion re: this week’s newsletter, on a favorite reading practice: two-person book clubs!

To summarize: @jinjin and I have a tradition going of reading big, long, classic books together! Not quite every year, but we have gotten through several wonderful doorstops:

  • Moby Dick: incredible, lives up to the hype; can be slow going, but gripping throughout, from majestic prose to whaling minutiae; ignore the haters who complain about the detailed digressions and meandering meditations, those parts are great too
  • Don Quixote: perhaps the OG of novels, and surprisingly hilarious; an almost unending series of vignettes; stories inside of stories, epic hijinks and more
  • The Power Broker: an amazing biography; a sweeping history the ramifications of which unfurl across decades; yeah it’s long but have you seen Caro’s other mega-project?!
  • Infinite Jest: wild and dense and imaginative; this one took a loooong time to get into, like a month to read the first hundred pages and a week to read the final third; it’s virtuosic and full of footnotes and once you get into it ultimately pretty great

How it works:

  • Pick a book together, ideally one that’s long, that you expect will be fun yet challenging
  • Start at the same time; try to keep roughly the same pace
  • Talk about it as you go; push each other to finish

Why it works:

  • Ritualizes your commitment; gets you more invested
  • More fun to read something challenging when you have someone to talk to!
  • But also more casual than a formal book club; easy to take your time, adjust pacing etc.
  • It can be nice to read something slowly; this kind of book becomes a background part of your life that may filter how you see the world for a while, in interesting ways

So…what should we read this year? A few ideas:

Have you done anything like this? Have suggestions that would be great picks for a two-person book club? Would love to hear any!

See also these related discussions:

Great idea !

My partner and I do this with audiobooks- it works great because if we are roughly in sync then we can listen together if we’re driving somewhere too.

What worked well for us

  • The count of monte cristo
  • Les misérables
  • any book by Emile Zola
  • the brothers Karamazov was fun too, and really benefits from being two readers in the beginning, especially if unfamiliar with Russian nicknames
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Oh nice, yeah we’ve done a couple audiobooks together on long car trips, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence!

Brothers K seems like a great one, haha Jinjin started that already this year so I may be too late / have to catch up later. Haven’t read the others either but all seem like they could be great. Proust is another…feels like all seven books would be maybe too long though, I worry I’d run out of steam. Tricky balance, challenging + fun :smiley: