This week I read a book over the phone with a stranger, and it was shockingly not awkward. Now, I have some experience reading aloud, as my wife and I read to each other every night. But you’ll pick it up quickly, if you try Audrey, a service that matches pairs of readers and gives them chapters of a book, specially formatted to read over the phone 10 minutes at a time.
Right now, Audrey is a scrappy DIY project. First you answer a questionnaire about yourself and your reading preferences. Over email, Audrey’s creator Rob Paul introduces you to your co-reader and hands you formatted PDFs of your 10-minute readings. You and your co-reader arrange to call each other on the phone and read.
Paul, a high school psychology teacher, compares Audrey to “peer-to-peer learning” in the classroom, where two students learn and teach together. He hopes Audrey can help people connect outside their usual social circle. Gadgette reports some of his best matches, such as an elderly person and an eight-year-old reading Roald Dahl’s Boy: Tales from Childhood.
Now Paul is developing an app, and hopes to “find a way to make it self-sustainable”. But for now it’s free, ad-free and serendipitous. And I recommend it.
Over email, Paul matched me with a reading partner, Kristen. While I’d heavily implied that I’d like to read a sci-fi book, Paul handed us a memoir about nursing: The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson.
This is a book I’d never pick up, never even read the front flap, on my own. Kristen wasn’t especially excited for this book either. But we each read a five-minute passage, and we agreed that it was well-written and moving, and we were ready to read more.
The system is pretty flexible. I read my passage off my computer, but you could use a headset to read right off your phone.
Our phone connection thinned out our voices and probably erased some subtleties, but there was still plenty to absorb beyond the words we were reading. We still experienced two of the main benefits of reading aloud together: Sharing the text in real time, and hearing, through their voice or their reactions, how someone else interprets the text.
The process felt surprisingly natural, and small talk came easy, building from each other’s Audrey bios. We discussed our own reading habits (she used to read aloud with her partner); Kristen suggested I try Neil Gaiman’s short story collections. We scheduled another reading session for next week.
There are a lot of awkward situations that could come up on Audrey. What if you don’t like your reading partner? What if one of you doesn’t like the book?
Well, you’ll figure it out. It’s nothing compared to the social anxieties of a dating app, but Audrey might be just as useful for social practice as for reading practice. In under a half hour a week, you’ll read a new book, and you’ll make a new friend.