Book Club for Two

Hopefully this will be my husband and me in a few years. Photo by Nico Aguilera.

My husband and I are both voracious readers. And, since we’re married, it’s pretty clear we prefer each other’s company to everyone else’s. (I mean, if Nathan Fillion shows up on the door and says, “Hey, Kristin, you want to go out for a glass of wine and a trip to the craft store? My treat!”—well, I’m not gonna pretend that isn’t intriguing.)

But for the most part, the husband and I spend most of our time together.

We’ve long had trouble committing to joint hobbies, though. (Playing video games and watching Doctor Who just don’t quite cut it.) We tried tennis for awhile, but then we discovered that tennis is hot, sweaty work that requires chasing fuzzy balls around for long periods of time. Then we tried blending our own tea, but one cup of almond-lavender failure convinced us that maybe it was just easier and more fun to buy teas than make them.

So this year, as part of a series of New Year’s resolutions, we decided to read one nonfiction book together every month, and discuss it when we finished… We made it through a single book before we realized that our taste in nonfiction is just too different. (“You want to read about Eleanor WHO in the Middle Ages?!”

A few months passed with no joint hobbies, but this summer we signed up for a Coursera class about science fiction and fantasy. While the class itself was only okay, we discovered that reading books in our shared favorite genre and then analyzing them together was quite a lot of fun.

When the class was done, I proposed a trade: we read The Mists of Avalon together so that Drew could get an introduction to feminist fantasy and King Arthur, and in exchange, I would read a book of his choosing. In the end, he chose Dune, and it’s proved to be a far better read so far—though that’s a topic for another post.

While it’s hard to avoid gendered reading (i.e., Mists is a “girl book” and Dune is a “boy book”), especially since we’ve continued trading books, we’ve found that reading together opens us up to new interpretations of and realizations about the text that we might not have seen on our own. I flatter myself to think that with my literary training, I’ve given my husband new things to consider in reading one of his favorite books. And, together, we were able to puzzle out a few reasons why The Mists of Avalon continues to be an honored work of fantasy.

We’ve had a few rocky moments, too, of course. I may have said one or two many disparaging things about the main character of Dune and Herbert’s love of describing a tent entrance as a “sphincter.” And… well, no, I wasn’t particularly offended by Drew’s dislike of Mists, since I didn’t much like it either. But we’re learning to see books we know and love (or at least respect) through the eyes of a new and different reader.

Plus, it gives us something to talk about on the many miles we walk each night for our other hobby: fending off couch-butt.

Have you ever tried a joint reading-endeavor? How did it go?