Happy Friday, everyone!
If you’ve been keeping up with our wrap-ups, you’ll already know that Line @ First Line Reader and I recently buddy read Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris together. However, what you probably didn’t know was that we used StoryGraph to do it!
(That’s right – this idiot has finally figured out how to make the switch to StoryGraph and import her Goodreads data 😁 It only took me what, a year?)
And of course, we wouldn’t be true book bloggers if we didn’t exploit this experience to write a lengthy discussion post. Especially now that we’ve put in the effort and figured out how StoryGraph works!
After several experiments that involved not just our fully fleshed-out Elantris buddy read, but also a trial-run with Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise and some final tweaks with Julia Golding’s Dragonfly, we feel fairly confident that we know enough to give you all the information you need if you’re thinking of attempting a StoryGraph buddy read yourself. The good, the bad, the in-between – we’ll be spilling the tea today!
This whole journey began when two book bloggers randomly decided that they needed to read Elantris together…
Why? Well, because we had grand hopes that it might be the missing puzzle piece to finally understanding Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere! Despite having read thousands of pages of Cosmere content at this point – both Mistborn trilogies, Secret History, The Stormlight Archive, Edgedancer, and Dawnshard in Line’s case and both Mistborn trilogies, The Stormlight Archive, and Warbreaker in Naemi’s – we still felt utterly clueless as to what the big picture was, so of course, we needed to get to the books that were still remaining!
However, our prior buddy reading experiences were kind of limited. Or, in Line’s case, absolutely non-existent. Naemi at least had several years of book club meetings with three of her friends to look back on, but since those were always in-person or video-call sessions where everyone got so distracted by personal stuff that there was maybe 50% literary input at best and the books were always read in pretty big chunks before any kind of discussion took place, the meetings hardly counted as your typical buddy read…
(Besides, Naemi’s friends have a real knack for picking horrible books that she absolutely hates reading – ** cough that Jorge Bucay novel cough** – so she wouldn’t have minded an enjoyable choice for a change! Apparently, though, choosing books with Line isn’t necessarily the solution to this problem… 😂🙈)
So of course, the big question we two buddy-reading noobs needed to ask ourselves was: Which platform should we use if we actually want to make this online buddy read thing work and comment on things in a book while reading without spoiling the other person?
We quickly came to the conclusion that the communication methods we had hitherto been using would probably lead to extreme chaos, with multiple chat threads and spoilers everywhere. However, as the more experienced StoryGraph-user – at this point, Naemi was still a clueless idiot struggling to find out why StoryGraph was refusing to import her Goodreads data – Line knew that StoryGraph had recently added a buddy read feature to their platform, and we thought this would be a great chance to try it!
So try it we did! And of course, now that we have gained such tremendous wisdom, we’re not going to withhold it from you and tell you everything we discovered about the advantages and disadvantages of the platform!
Let’s spread some positivity and start with the good – because there were quite a few things we really liked about StoryGraph!
#1 Easy Set-Up
One huge bonus is that using StoryGraph’s buddy read feature is almost completely idiot-proof. All you have to do is click on the book in question, and one of the options that immediately pops up is called “Start a buddy read…” – which directly leads you to a set-up page where you can invite up to four other people to join in:
And then you’re good to go!
At least, almost 😅 The process working is dependent on the clueless person (=Naemi) realizing that they have to check a box in their privacy settings that actually allows their StoryGraph friends to invite them to buddy reads. Otherwise the more organized person (=Line) can send out as many invitations as they want, but their chosen buddy is never going to catch a glimpse of them…
#2 It’s Organized!
Seriously, using StoryGraph probably made the structure of our buddy reads about a thousand times better than it would have been if we’d used some other platform!
Comments are automatically organized by where in the book they refer to – which can theoretically be done in an edition-independent way. If you’ve told StoryGraph which edition you’re reading and enter the page number your comment refers to, the app automatically calculates the corresponding page number for other editions and the percentage you are into the book. And even if your edition isn’t available, you can still calculate those percentages yourself and enter them by hand!
A quick impression of the StoryGraph buddy reading interface: You can either start a new comment thread by clicking on the “Add comment” button at the top of the page or respond to one of your buddy’s comments directly with the “Reply” option.
The comments are then hidden from the other person until they have also reached that point in the book, in which case they can choose to reveal them. Overall, it’s a very simple method to prevent you and your buddy from spoiling each other, and, for the most part, we thought it worked really well!
In addition, StoryGraph notifies you when the other person has commented something, and if you click on that notification, it takes you directly to what they’ve written. Which is extremely helpful when you and your buddy have already composed a novel’s worth of comments and don’t want to scroll through all of it every single time you want to read a new response!
#3 The App Lets You Word-Vomit to Your Heart’s Desire
Speaking of long comments: We think we can safely say that there probably isn’t a limit as to how much StoryGraph lets you write… No matter how long and nested the comments get – and trust us when we say we have extensively tested this 😂 – they still get fully and properly displayed. So if the two of you want to go on super long philosophical tangents about life, death, linguistics, or maps, nothing is stopping you!
We’re cutting this comment thread off here because we don’t want to bore you to tears with a LOOOOOONG discussion about language trivia and Cosmere theories that don’t really end up leading anywhere… (Although Naemi would just like to remark that she unfortunately no longer thinks the Scandinavian place names in Elantris are intentional 😅) But suffice it to say: You can have extremely lengthy discussions in StoryGraph and still have them look pretty!
#4 When You’re Done Reading, You Still Have All Your Comments to Look Back On
Although it took us a while to figure this out, we now know that StoryGraph saves all of your current and past buddy reads under the “Buddy reads” section in the “Community” tab. So if you want to reminisce about all the good old times you had with your buddy or look back on your initial reactions to freshen up your horribly bad memory without actually having to reread the book, you can!
As useful as StoryGraph’s buddy read feature turned out to be, though, there were still some things that annoyed us and that we thought could definitely be improved upon… And since we figured you guys love rants just as much as we do, we’re obviously not going to hold back on our pettiness!
#1 There’s No Like-Button on Comments
This one drove both of us – but especially Line – nuts. How can a platform just forget to have something as simple as a like-button???
As a result, we were either constantly feeling rude about leaving the other person hanging or kept responding to each other in endless comment chains so that the other person would at least know we’d seen their previous comment 🙈 For two people like us, who are already constantly overthinking everything anyway, it felt kind of like being caught between Scylla and Charybdis!
#2 Editing Is Strictly Forbidden – Or, As Line Puts It, “StoryGraph is taking a page out of Twitter’s book by withholding the edit-button”
Well, it probably does make sense that you shouldn’t constantly go around editing your comments when the other person is trying to have a discussion with you… What if you went ahead and changed part of your past conversation and your buddy never even noticed?
But when you back through what you’ve written, realize you’re not even capable of spelling a character’s name consistently within one single paragraph, and can’t fix any typos, it can be kind of frustrating!
Besides, what if you make a typo so serious it inhibits understanding? Then you’re going to have to add a whole new comment explaining that, or delete your old comment and write it all over again!
**Nope, the inclusion of this point totally has nothing to do with Naemi’s saltiness over the fact that people other than Line are going to see her spelling mistakes now that the two of them have decided to exploit their buddy reads for a blog post **
#3 Reading Different Editions is Way Harder in Practice Than It Is in Theory
Being the geniuses that we are, we managed to pick different editions for all of the books we buddy read… and we’d be lying if we said we never accidentally spoiled each other. Calculating percentages can get very hard – For both StoryGraph and the buddy readers! – when one person’s edition includes a ton of extra content that skews the page count, or when one of you is listening to an audiobook in an app that somehow only recalculates how far you are into the book every full hour… So while we got the hang of things eventually, it took quite a bit of additional adjusting!
And then it also took some readjusting when things didn’t quite work the way we expected them to…
So yeah – suffice it to say, we ran into trouble and found it very hard to comment in such a way that the other person knew for certain what part of the book the comment referred to without already reading it.
However, there’s probably no easy solution to this, either. Maybe it’d help if you could also give your buddy information on which chapter a comment referred to, but then again, that’d probably only make sense for books with very short sections. So we can’t really blame StoryGraph for this one!
Instead, we’d recommend that if you want to use the app then you should
1. Read the same edition! For crying out loud, is that really so hard? (Answer: Yes, it is. If one person’s library only has a very specific edition and the other person’s library doesn’t stock the book at all, forcing them to buy the cheapest available option instead, then it is very hard indeed!)
2. If you decide to read different editions despite our warning, calculate your percentages by hand (or with a calculator 😜) and enter those, not page numbers. This is particularly important if one person’s edition includes a ton of extra stuff like forewords or epilogues, because those can skew percentages quite considerably if they’re included in the page count! So your best bet is to subtract any bonus content before you start calculating… (And yes, we realize that this is extremely tedious! But do you want to avoid spoilers or not?)
#4 The Site Can Be A Bit Clunky to Use
If you have longer conversations that go back and forth a lot, the buddy-read-feed does start to look a bit chaotic. StoryGraph is great if you want to exchange a few comments on specific scenes that happen in the book, but if you really want to start theorizing, it’s probably easier to switch to a different platform. Which is annoying if you want to have all of your discussions in one place!
That’s why we think it’d be really helpful if StoryGraph added a more general discussion section to its buddy read feature. That way, you could chat back and forth once you’d finished the entire book and not clog up the main feed of your reading log to the point that you can barely find anything anymore. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t need this for every book – we imagine things might’ve looked a bit different if we’d read a fluffy contemporary instead of heavily symbolic literary fiction (To Paradise) or part of a multi-world-spanning high fantasy series that has clues to a bigger picture strewn across thousands of pages (Elantris) – but it’d be nice to have the option for books that do spark those kinds of long discussions!
Also, the whole revealing comments thing could definitely be less complicated. For example, if you want to reveal a comment from the other person, let’s say, 35% into the book, you have to change your progress on the book to at least 35% before you can click “reveal comment”. You can’t do it within the buddy read, so you have to go to either your home page or the site of the book to change this, come back to the buddy read, and then click “reveal comment”. It seems very unnecessary when you as a reader are already making the active decision that you want to see the comment at 35%!
Also, rather than only saving past buddy reads in a separate “past buddy reads” section, we think it’d be helpful if that information was additionally stored with the book itself, like it is while you’re reading. That way, you could simply search for the book if you want to find the buddy read again, which would probably save you a bit of time. Especially if you end up becoming very invested and participate in multiple buddy reads!
#5 A Lot Gets Lost When You’re Just Typing
Unlike a live buddy reading session, where you can talk to each other at length and also have each other’s facial expressions and body language to go on, you only have words at your disposal in StoryGraph – and brief ones at that. It just takes so long to “say” something this way, so that you automatically limit yourself in how much you say yourself or in how much you add to a discussion!
(And as followers of this blog will know, Naemi in particular is very bad at limiting herself when she gets excited about something… 🤣)
Which means that, despite putting a ton of time into writing comments, you might not know the other person’s thoughts as extensively as you would if you just discussed this stuff in person, and misunderstandings can happen…
For some people, that might make an in-person book club the more appealing alternative.
But let’s not forget that StoryGraph’s way of doing things also has advantages! You’re forced to be more concise (at least a little 😁). You have a “transcript” of all of your thoughts to look back on when you’re done with the buddy read. And you don’t actually have to meet up in person or phone anyone, which can be a godsend if you’re super introverted!
So, again, we probably shouldn’t blame StoryGraph for any shortcomings in this regard, but simply be aware of what the platform has to offer. After all, you can always supplement your comments with live discussions if you want to!
Now that we’ve looked at the upsides and the downsides to the platform, you’re probably all curious – What is your resident experts’ overall opinion? Would we recommend using the site for buddy reads? Would we ever do this again ourselves?
Line: Using StoryGraph was definitely way easier than our other options, so I’m glad we went with that. Being able to just share a minor thought without it needing to be a full conversation works really well with how I read anyway because I take a lot of breaks as I’m reading a book. The clunkiness of the feature is probably my main problem with it, but it’s also a general problem I have with StoryGraph. However, it is something they might fix later on to make the buddy reading feature even better. At this point, it doesn’t change the fact that I would definitely use the feature again!
Naemi: As much as I hated Elantris, I loved reading it with Line! I had a ton of fun exchanging crazy theories and ranting about all the plot conveniences and annoyingly perfect characters, and, in my opinion, StoryGraph was a great medium to do that on. So, yes, I’d do this again! I mean, not with every book I read – I like uninterruptedly disappearing between pages too much for that and am also way too lazy to always write this many comments 😁 – but every once in a while, definitely! Although there’s still room for improvement, I’d very much recommend StoryGraph’s buddy reading feature to any other book nerds wishing to engage more with their community. It’s such a fun way to experience a story together!
Even if you now have a tool for your potential buddy read, maybe you’re still on the fence about whether the whole buddy reading thing is for you… And trust us, we get it. After all, it took us over a quarter century of our lives to finally try this ourselves!
So, in the final section of this discussion, we thought we would also give you some insights into the more general pros and cons of buddy reading that we experienced along the way. These are some things that will probably be relevant whether or not you decide to go with StoryGraph as the platform of your choice!
Again, let’s start with the good:
Having another person to exchange ideas with and hold you accountable can be really motivating – particularly when both you and your buddy aren’t the hugest fans of the book you’ve decided to read…
It can be so much fun to rant about particularly annoying developments together, to discuss theories, to have an audience that understands all of the random references you’re making because they’re also still in the middle of the book and everything is fresh on their mind. And when reading the book appears like a very daunting task that you might never, ever finish, it can be extremely helpful to know there’s another person out there waiting for you to catch up with them!
#2 Two Heads Are Better Than One
Having a reading buddy means you get a second, different perspective that makes you reflect on things that you might otherwise never have considered while reading! Just as no two people will have had exactly the same experiences in their lives, no two people will interpret one and the same book completely identically. Through the eyes of your buddy, you’re suddenly forced to pay attention to possibilities and details that you never even noticed, and it’s going to make the reading experience so much more interesting!
Besides, sometimes it just helps to have two people on the lookout for clues when you’re trying to come up with brilliant theories. Particularly when you and your buddy are both absolute geniuses at finding and remembering information…
#3 You Get to Come Up With Brilliant Theories Together
We’ve kind of already mentioned this one, but come on – which book nerd doesn’t love trying to guess plot twists way in advance? Who wouldn’t try to and come up with lots of theories while reading? It’s so satisfying!
(Even if your theories don’t end up being confirmed, but hey, there are more Cosmere books coming! 😁)
But not everything about buddy reading is golden… Otherwise, why would you still have doubts about trying it? Apart from the very obvious fact that buddy reading is more time consuming than reading a book on your own, there are also a few other disadvantages:
#1 Danger of Distraction
Didn’t you guys just say that having a buddy can make you more invested in the story? Well, yes, we did 😁
But it can also be a huge distraction. Like, when something really cool or exciting happens, you’re suddenly torn between continuing to read or stopping to comment on how cool and exciting this thing is! Which then interrupts your reading flow…
In the case of Elantris, this didn’t really bother us too much, seeing that neither of us particularly liked the book. But we can imagine that it gets a whole lot more frustrating when you’re actually enjoying what you’re reading!
#2 Your Opinion Is Automatically Going to Be Influenced By the Other Person’s
Of course, if you’re reading a book together, you’re going to be confronted with a lot of the other person’s thoughts while reading it.
On the one hand, that’s good because you see things you might otherwise never have paid attention to. No matter whether we were arguing with each other, gushing about something we both found exciting, or ranting about something incredibly annoying, we learned so much from getting each other’s input!
But on the other hand, you’re left wondering if you might have experienced things differently if you’d had the time to dwell on the story on your own first. Would we really have hated Elantris so much if we hadn’t been fueled by each other’s enthusiasm for finding even more convenient inconsistencies in the plot? Would we maybe have liked it even less if we hadn’t had the other person’s hilarious comments to make the experience more enjoyable? In retrospect, you can never really know…
So yeah, is buddy reading for you? Ultimately, only you can make that choice, but we hope we were able to give you some inspiration along the way!
Let us know in the comments below what your verdict on the question whether buddy reading is worth it would be, and whether you agree or disagree with the points we made here! Do you use StoryGraph? Have you ever tried its buddy read feature? Have you ever buddy read anything using a different method? We would love to hear all about your experiences!