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Social Reading?

Last month, on Twitter, I mused a bit about how I dislike the idea/term “social reading” and a few people chimed in with their thoughts, also. (It’s a topic I’ve touched on briefly, here, last April, in Reading Alone Together.)

I mentioned how, as an introvert who likes my alone time with my books and reading, tagging “social” onto “reading” seems an attempt to change an introverted activity to an extroverted one. Being social, after all, seems to garner more respect than the opposite of being social. Is anti-social ever a good term? Being social, though — it’s doing something! With other people! It’s as if reading alone isn’t cool enough — it now has to be something more. 

Next thing, reading won’t be enough, either — it’s better to be writing than reading, so why not just offer readers writing opportunities instead? Cause books and reading alone are boring. It’s passive and not doing something.

During the Twitter conversation, a few others noted that with reading, it’s the relationship between the reader and the book; the immersion of the reader into the reading experience. An experience that is not social, and is changed when others enter into it.

So, of course, it was with interest that I read one of YALSA’s the Hub recent posts: The Next Big Thing: Social Reading.

I know it may seem odd, my dislike of the term and the idea of it, given my use of blogging and other social media to discuss what I’ve read. Maybe I’m being too literal. But to me, at least, all of those activities are not about reading — it’s about what we do after we put the book down and stop reading. Sharing notes of what we read while we’re reading it? Not such a big fan — I’m reminded of buying used books. I get a bit annoyed at seeing the prior owner’s notes or underlining because instead of me reading the book, I start wondering why someone else saw something as significant. I’m out of the book, I’m out of the reading experience.

The observer effect is about the act of observing something changes it. That, too, with books — except now the “social reading” shares the reading experience and not always to the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong. At times a discussion about a book can make me like the book all the more. Appreciate new things. It can be fun and exciting. But not always. As a general rule, in the real world, once I know I like a book that someone else dislikes I end the conversation about that book. I may read reviews that disagree with mine, yes. But that is also not social: I pick if and when to read that review. It’s not as if while I’m reading, I’m seeing those notes saying “so unbelievable” or “boring.”

So, what are your thoughts? Social reading — yay or nay?

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. NAY! I’m with everything you said here 100%. I also have no desire to share my reading experience with anyone. It is about me and the book and I like it that way. I think our society has reached a point where it almost sees introvertedness as a condition that must be overcome. Well I don’t want to overcome it. I’m not at all shy, I just like to choose what kind of social interaction I have and am highly picky when it comes to that. My books shall have no part of it.

  2. I don’t much like the idea of commenting on my reading while I’m reading, as in the article you linked, because I don’t really believe in multi-tasking. When I read, I read. When I discuss, I discuss. But I love discussing books afterwards, after I’ve read them. And I’m an introvert.

  3. Brandy, see, this is my reaction, also. And yes, about the “condition to be overcome.”

    Sherry, much as I do multitask things — not this. One question, and this may be more about defining terms and reactions to certain words. Do you think discussing afterwards is “social reading”? I don’t and just wonder if I’m perhaps being hyper picky about terminology.

  4. I’m in agreement with all three of you: I love discussing books and enjoy reviewing them so that others can either find their next great read or stay far far away, and I’m even happy to discuss a book in progress but not while I’m reading it (which sound like a contradiction, but I mean the discussion takes place during breaks in my actual reading). Does that make my reading social? I’m not sure that it meets the “legal” definition, but it’s certainly A definition.

    I can see applications like Subtext in a book group or class, but honestly? I think I’d find it annoying to have someone else’s thoughts pop-up before I’d formed my own (the benefit of discussing post reading!). It’s like reading a book that already has underlining and marginalia: your eye and mind are drawn there, not to your own internal journey with the text.

  5. Laura, even when I was doing the FRANKENSTEIN chapter by chapter reading, I didn’t think of it as “social reading.” Would others think differently? Perhaps. But it feels a bit “look, you don’t want to be social but we decided you are” to call it by a term I’m not comfortable with/using myself. Alas, I’m presenting at the same time as the ya lit symposium program on social reading so won’t be able to learn more nuances/implications/meanings of the term.

  6. I really can’t imagine trying to read and tweet/discuss at the same time. For one thing, I usually need a bit after I’ve finished a book to really digest it (okay, ew, but still). My reactions while reading often are more extreme–the positives more positive, the negatives more negative. In fact, one of my most negative reviews was written while I was doing a book challenge and I think I would have ended up with a very different set of thoughts had I let it sit for a bit before writing.

    I’m also totally in agreement with everything that’s been said so far, so I’m mostly pulling out a different strand of the argument.

  7. Maureen, I agree that my off the cuff comments are not necessarily what I’d say with more thought or, also, rereading something. So how does that factor into “social reading” and sharing-as-reading? How does that inability to reflect impact the experience? Or, as with my Frankenstein posts, while I took notes as I read, I didn’t post anything until it was done, so I did tweak what I wrote about it.

  8. Well, it seems like with social reading, there’s less time to consider, that the thoughts that you have as you’re reading and still finding out the story, still reflecting on your own reactions to it are necessarily public. I do like the immediacy of various reading note/live blog type posts, but I like them particularly as part of a mixture of that plus a more polished review.

  9. It seems like this concept of “social reading” is inevitable, a natural extension of the current climate of social media, the tendency (or compulsion) that many people have toward sharing every experience and thought they are having, as they are having it. I find most enjoyment in actually being in the current moment, worrying less about documenting that moment, posting it and checking every few minutes to see who has “liked” or “commented” on my moment. I believe this carries over into my reading experience. I certainly love and value book discussions but would rather enjoy the reading experience wholly and without distraction, as it is happening. And then enjoy a good discussion.

  10. maureen, I keep mulling this over and over — the impact of it — what it means. And perhaps it also matters for what is being read?

    Krislee, your second to the last sentence, exactly. and being that i do have an online presence, I wonder if people think that because “some” things are online (documented in the moment, as it were) that means we’re OK with all? Which, for me, is not true, at all.

  11. I think what makes it “social reading” (as opposed to using social media for just hanging out and talking books, a process that probably began sometime in the Neolithic as soon as there were two books and three readers) is unfortunately that it’s an attempt to arrive at “a social reading,” i.e. to create community/consensus around a given work (even if the consensus is a list of alternatives like “Huckleberry Finn is excellent as an early Modern novel but may or may not be accessible because of its racist language and may be overrated because of its being early in the development” etc.)

    To test one’s own reading against others’ readings (and maybe change it, or re-read and then change it) is part of the fun but the reading is still individual and personal. To produce “a social reading” is to keep training wheels and a guide channel on a bicycle forever, so that we may all ride exactlly the same; it might make it easier for the writers of SATs but for all other writers it will make things mostly pointless.

  12. John — yes, yes, yes, reading remains individual and personal. “to keep training wheels and a guide channel on a bicycle forever”…. I confess my initial reaction was as an introvert whose favorite activity is now being made into something extroverted, but this has given me more food for thought. That’s it not just “social” but sameness created by the social aspect — much food for thought.