Together it feels less like reading alone

29 Mar 2022

During the coronavirus pandemic, Lisa Stengel and Eleonora Weiss founded “Lesebuddies,” whose name translates as reading buddies — a reading community that has proved to be a great success.

Lisa Stengel and Eleonora Weiss are student representatives in the department of German Philology and they are both thoroughly enthusiastic readers. From an initially private reading group in spring 2021 emerged a public community of readers called “Lesebuddies.”

What initially sparked the creation of the reading community?

Lisa: There was a book I had to read for university and I knew that Eleonora also loves to read. At the time, we hadn’t heard from each other in a while because of the pandemic. The idea of forming a reading community and getting together at regular intervals — digitally, of course — to talk about what we were reading was an idea I found very appealing. And then we had so much fun in the meetings, and we were surprised at how quickly we got through the book together. So we thought about expanding the idea. As student reps for German Philology, we’re always on the lookout for new activities anyway. So we sent out a call on Instagram for people to join our new “reading buddy program” and we were amazed by the response.

Eleonora: When Lisa pitched me her book club idea back then, I thought it was pretty cool. I had just handed in my master’s thesis and got myself a library card for the city library and I thought to myself: wow, cool, now we can also read fiction together.

You brought a book with you. Why did you choose this one?

Lisa: It’s the book that kind of triggered the impulse to start the reading buddies group — “Malé” by Roman Ehrlich. The novel is set in the Maldives in a dystopian but not too distant future where they are heavily underwater. There are several storylines told from the perspective of different characters who are all looking for something on the island — presumably answers to the challenges of their lives.The fascinating thing is that I probably would never have read the book if it hadn’t been required reading on the course. That’s why I asked Nora if she felt the same way and would like to read the book together with me. Without the shared experience of reading this book, the “Lesebuddies” project might never have come into being.

Eleonora: The blurb didn’t grab me either — but in the end we both liked it. I actually like reading psychological thrillers and crime novels as well as children’s and young adult literature. But now I’m trying to read more literature by women and queer authors — away from the classics like Astrid Lindgren. After all, each and every one of us has our own focus and interests. That’s why it’s worth broadening your horizons. And that happens quite naturally when you build up a community.

Are there certain genres that you prefer to read?

Lisa: We read a lot of fiction overall, but there are basically no rules. Which genre we read usually depends a lot on what people are interested in. I do a survey before each reading round and give different options to choose from, such as specialist and non-fiction books, or non-fictional literature like biographies. Anything that appeals is allowed. It is also not unknown for some people to read specialist literature together. It can be very interesting to talk about specialist literature outside of the seminar room.

How do your meetings work?

Lisa: At the beginning, we decide which book we want to read next. Sometimes it’s not easy for us to decide, because so many people have creative and exciting ideas. As soon as we have agreed on a book, we discuss the amount of reading. We are very flexible and make sure we have a good “read-life balance.” But our meetings are not just reading circles; they can also be seen as a kind of “stepping stone” to social contacts. Because over time, a community develops out of these meetings. Subliminally, that was part of our idea behind the project.

Eleonora: That’s true. Each group also has its own evolving dynamic, which is also interesting to observe. For the most part, it ends up being experienced readers who guide the conversation at the beginning, but that can also change in the course of the meetings.

How can people become a reading buddy?

Lisa: We the student reps announce on Instagram that there’s going to be a new reading round. There is also a form where interested people can sign up to join the list. We connect the individual reading buddies with one another — and from then on, it’s up to them how and when they meet. The coronavirus had a lot to do with it, of course. But digital meetings have proven to be a really great option.

How do you hope the future of the project will play out?

Eleonora: We would like the project to become more permanent and to create new social networks so that interested people can exchange ideas and perhaps even gain a new perspective and a new approach to literature, while at the same time discovering new literature. Our goal is to promote plurality, not only with regard to authors, but also when it comes to the readers themselves.

Lisa: In the seminar room, many people feel less free to openly express their thoughts and opinions on what they’ve read. We dream of organizing a “Long Night of Reading” where people meet in the evenings at the university and together come up with ideas about what to read next. But what will always be most important is that reading together should simply be fun!

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