Though my brother and I live many miles apart, we stay close and share our love of books with this creative book club. 

By Lindsey J. Palmer
Updated February 26, 2019
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“Such a strong take on the complexities of female friendship, right?” I was on the phone with my older brother, Seth. We’d both just finished Julie Buntin’s novel, Marlena ($9, amazon.com).

“Sure, but it was sort of a rehash of that Jennifer Egan book, The Invisible Circus.”

“Good point. Though give me a hundred well-written best friend novels, and I’ll read every one of them. So, what are you up to this weekend?”

And then we were on to sharing our Friday night plans and birthday gift ideas for our mother. As our call was winding down, Seth asked what we should read next. I’d seen a bunch of people on the subway buried in Pachinko ($11, amazon.com), a debut novel by Min Jin Lee, so that became the next pick for what we call the five-minute book club.

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This “club” is exactly what it sounds like: My brother and I read the same book and then discuss it for five minutes, tops. We share a few sections we loved, or gripe about a couple elements that annoyed us (both Seth and I loved Pachinko, but felt the last part could’ve been cut). Sometimes we even get into larger themes or connections to our lives. But always just for five minutes.

The five-minute book club is not an indictment of long, meandering book talk. I’m a member of a regular book club for that kind of thing. Nor is it a critique of in-depth literary analysis—I taught high school English for years, after all. It’s also not an endorsement of the faster-is-better, squish-your-workout-into-twelve-minutes trend. It’s refreshing to read a book, touch on a few bullet points, and then move on. The five-minute book club celebrates the easy, the cursory, the idea that not everything in our life requires our full, exhaustive effort all of the time.

Besides which, it’s simply an entertaining way to hang out with my brother. Seth and I are close, but we live 200 miles apart, and we’re both busy. We can play phone tag for a week before connecting. When do finally do talk, it’s nice to do more than catch up on our schedules, share work highlights, and bemoan the increasingly dispiriting news of the day. Adding brief book banter to our conversational roster is a pleasure.

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Seth and I used to conduct this custom in person. When I first moved to New York after college—freshly heartbroken, jobless, and altogether lost—Seth was working 80-hour weeks as a banker. But he still made time to hang out and talk books. I credit my brother for helping me find my way all those years ago. Over the course of the next decade, Seth moved away, then back again, and then away a second time.

I remember our final, face-to-face five-minute book club: Walking along the Hudson River, Seth had just broken the news that he was leaving New York, and I’d just announced that I was pregnant. Soon we were on to rehashing Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter ($11, amazon.com). Seth and I are both suckers for a New York City coming-of-age story, and I especially felt a soft spot for the protagonist’s brooding love interest. “Jake was like a grown-up Jordan Catalano,” I said, recalling the iconic heartthrob from cult TV show My So-Called Life. Seth rolled his eyes. “Personally, I’ve never encountered a bartender who can quote classic poetry.”

“What about a finance guy who reads character-driven literary novels with his sister?” I retorted, pointing an accusing finger at Seth.

He shrugged. “Fair enough. So what’s next?”

We devoured Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels ($13 for My Brilliant Friend, amazon.com) while I was curled up on the couch battling bouts of morning sickness, and Seth was settling in to married life. Then, between learning about strollers and car seats (me) and apartment hunting in Boston (Seth), we took on Susan Rieger’s The Heirs ($11, amazon.com)—a rollicking tale of a dysfunctional upper-crust family (Seth and I both felt relieved it didn't much resemble our own family). After that, we read Tara Westover’s Educated ($17, amazon.com), me in bleary bouts while nursing my newborn daughter, Seth in a single stretch en route to Buenos Aires for business. The gorgeous and harrowing memoir of growing up without attending school made us both feel deeply grateful for the high-quality educations we received.

No matter what we're reading next, there's always the five-minute fast take, then the shift in gears. These days we're comparing notes on life with my toddler and Seth’s puppy: Both are obsessed with shoes, eat the occasional piece of trash, and are growing like weeds.

Then: “Cool, so what are we reading next?”

Lindsey J. Palmer is the author of three novels. Her newest, Otherwise Engaged ($17, amazon.com), is out now. More info at lindseyjpalmer.com.