For years I’ve been wanting to join a book club, but living in a small town in a foreign country when I hadn’t yet mastered the language made it difficult to find the book club that worked for me.
Last August I moved to Rotterdam, by far the most international town I’ve ever lived in. Once here, it was easy to find an English-speaking book club, and once I had settled down in town, I wasted no time signing up for one.
Bored To Death Book Club is known for two main things: they read only books in English, and they try as much as possible to pick books that are a bit under the mainstream radar.
In January this year, I finally attended my first session, and I had a blast talking about Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. As the session came to an end, I concluded that it had been even more than I had hoped for and I was excited to become part of this group of readers to discuss a different book every month. But then, just as the April session was about to take place, COVID-19 happened. We are still meeting online, and carrying on with our monthly sessions, but reading has been a bit tough for me later, and I’ve been going through a bit of a slump. Even though I have more free time, and I’m staying home most of it, my mind refuses to read just anything. So, I’ve been jumping from book to book, trying to find those that I can muddle through in these times.
So, if at the book club we discuss a book once a month, but I’m having trouble finishing the books assigned to me, how do I discuss those books that I can read right now—the fast-paced, easy and straightforward stories that my brain doesn’t reject? A book club app, called Byzans.
I discovered the app last year and it has been incredibly helpful, especially during this period. But what is Byzans, you ask? The creators call it the book chat app, which sums up pretty well what you can do with it. Personally, I consider it a book club in my pocket. Simply put, it is an app used to connect with other book lovers to talk about the books you read.
In some ways, it resembles Goodreads, if you use Goodreads more to keep a record of your books, and your “book friends” are anyone reading the same book as you.
Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can search for a book – you can also simply scan a book – and once you choose an action (want to read, currently reading, or read) the app will immediately add the book to your personal account, and welcome you into a group where you can start a conversation with anyone who is in the same place as you: either wanting to read it, currently reading, or who has read it. Moreover, the app was created to avoid spoilers as much as possible. Once in the group, there are two ways you can debate the book: The Café allows you to discuss things in a more general way; The Salon allows you to start topics of conversation related to different chapters. So if you feel like going more in-depth about a section of the book, you can just post a new topic in The Salon, mentioning the chapter or section you’re in. This way, whoever has read that chapter can come and join the conversation without the fear of having the book ruined for them! On top of this, they also have an option to mark a text as a spoiler directly as you are typing on the app.
And if you’re done with the book discussion, you can leave the group while still maintaining the book in your personal profile. So, no unnecessary messages on your timeline.
The app is super simple, which makes it quite intuitive, and it’s one of the main reasons I prefer it to other similar platforms. You don’t need to go around trying to figure things out, what you see is what you get. Any questions and doubts I had about the app were answered on their small FAQ page.
4 Ways to Use Byzans This Quarantine (And, Certainly, Beyond)
To Keep a Record of What You Are Reading Or Want To Read
As mentioned above, the platform works a bit like Goodreads, so you can use it to keep your books in check.
Connect With Other Book Lovers
It’s so easy to start a discussion, and to find other people who love books and are reading the same as you, that you will end up feeling even more connected to the book community. Sometimes we just really need someone to talk to about a book, and Byzans provides that without having to leave the house.
Arrange Silent Readings
In the last few months I’ve been having so much trouble focusing on my reading that the only way to get over difficult books seems to be hosting silent book clubs. There is something about being held accountable that surely works for me. I could easily take one hour out of my day and read, but without anyone to share that experience I’ll most likely be looking at my phone, open book in hand, untouched, after 20 minutes. When you host a silent reading, you and the other person kinda owe something to each other, and it becomes easier to spend that hour just reading, without giving in to distractions.
Once in a while I pop into Byzans and I ask if anyone is willing to do a silent reading. We then arrange a time, chat a little bit in The Salon under a new thread before starting, and one hour later we come back to talk – without spoilers – about the progress we made in that time. Works every time and I have finished more than one book this way.
In all honesty, to arrange these you don’t even need to be reading the same book. The app is just a nice way to connect.
Feel Less Lonely While Being Able To Regain Boundaries
Social isolation can be tough, and having an app which allows us to connect with people with similar passions is helpful. But, very often, it is also nice to be able to step back when sharing information becomes a bit too much.
While reading is very often a solitary hobby, it doesn’t always have to be so. Currently, some are reading less, others are reading more, and the app is a great way to keep conversations without any kind of obligation. The users are just readers, willing to talk about the books they love or hate, without the pressure to keep in touch.
I hope you are being kind to yourself during this period. Amount of time and mental space aren’t always in sync, and while many seem to believe that more time should mean more work, these are not ordinary times.
Read for pleasure, at your own pace, and I hope you manage to get good debates out of whatever you read. All this, in the safety of your home.