This reading group guide for BIG FRIENDSHIP includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the bookIntroduction A close friendship is one of the most influential and important relationships a human life can contain. Anyone will tell you that! But for all the rosy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul.
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Now two friends, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming Big Friendship in this honest and hilarious book that chronicles their first decade in one another’s lives. As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend
, they’ve become known for frank and intimate conversations. In this book, they bring that energy to their own friendship—
its joys and
Aminatou and Ann define Big Friendship as a strong, significant bond that transcends life phases, geographical locations, and emotional shifts. And they should know: the two have had moments of charmed bliss and deep frustration, of profound connection and gut-wrenching alienation. They have weathered life-threatening health scares, getting fired from their dream jobs, and one unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner eaten in a car in a parking lot in Rancho Cucamonga. Through interviews with friends and experts, they have come to understand that their struggles are not unique. And that the most important part of a Big Friendship is making the decision to invest in one another again and again.
An inspiring and entertaining testament to the power of society’s most underappreciated relationship, Big Friendship
will invite you to think about how your own bonds are formed, challenged, and preserved. It is a call to value your friendships in all of their complexity. Actively choose them. And, sometimes, fight for them.Topics & Questions for Discussion (12-15 Discussion Questions)
1. In the prologue, Sow and Friedman are in a spa trying to repair their friendship. “We were not a romantic couple or estranged family members, but the stakes were just as high for us.” Discuss this statement. In your experience, is it true that the stakes for friendship is just as high as romantic or familial relationships? Why or why not?
2. How does the use of “we” inform your reading experience?
3. The authors create a language for understanding friendships, such as social initiators (people whose love language is making and keeping plans) and Stretching. Do you see these concepts at play in your friendships? If not, have you made an effort to recognize and enact these behaviors?
4. How do the authors meld research into their memoir? What effect does this have on your reading experience?
5. Pop culture appears throughout the book contextualizing their friendship as they develop. Sow and Friedman watch Beyoncé in Obsessed,
listen to Coldplay’s Don’t Panic,
and wear t-shirts commemorating “the brattiest teen couple” on Gossip Girl,
Chuck and Blair. What are some pop culture gems in your friendships?
6. Sow and Friedman have drastically different and unique upbringings. How do their differences manifest in their relationship and in what ways do these differences allow their friendship to thrive?
7. Shine Theory is defined “as an investment, over the long term, in helping a friend be their best—and relying on their help in return.” It’s one of the many revolutionary concepts in the book to expand the definition of friendship. Is Shine Theory operating in your friendships? If not, what steps can you take to make sure it does?
8. Chosen family is a term used by the LGBTQ community to describe intimate relationships that are freely selected. What does it mean that Sow and Friedman describe each other that way? What is the political importance of this?
9. How is the Friendweb different from #SquadGoals? How does the Desert Ladies trip strain Sow and Friedmans’ Friendweb? What is the solution to the strain?
10. When Sow attends a birthday party of one of Friedman’s friends, she’s disheartened to find that she’s the only Black person in the gathering. What is the significance of this event? How does this demonstrate the trapdoor of racism, an experience articulated by Wesley Morris, as the risk people of color take when they are friends with white people who can disappoint with a “slip of the tongue, or at a campus party, or in a legislative campaign.” How does this moment highlight an unbridgeable gap between Sow and Friedman?
11. Sow and Friedman share a low moment in their friendship when they retreat into their own corners, despite sharing “an LLC, a bank account, and a trademark.” How does the breakdown occur? Has this happened in your own friendship before?
12. In couples therapy, Sow and Friedman repair their friendship by “undoing our powerful story of sameness.” What does this mean?
13. Sow and Friedman emphasize, “active friendships require active maintenance.” Do you actively invest in your friendships? What does this look like?
14. Now that you’ve read the book, define Big Friendship. What does it mean to you? And how can you keep it?Enhance Your Book Club (3-5 Enhance Your Book Club Suggestions)
1. Sow and Friedman share their magical origin story: a Gossip Girl
watch party. Recount your origin story with your friend!
2. Shine Theory is a mutual, meaningful long-term investment. With your group, brainstorm ways to practice Shine Theory. Discuss how and who you can share resources, contacts, and opportunities with.
3. Try going to couples therapy with a friend! You might be surprised by what you learn of your friendship.A Conversation with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (10 – 12 Questions)Q: Congratulations on the success of Big Friendship! Did you always know you wanted to write a book together?
A: We did not! Every single one of our professional collaborations has grown out of our friendship. It’s true that we have been obsessed with each other’s brains since the moment we first met, but we never once sat down to make a longterm plan for things we would like to make together. At some point, many years deep into our friendship and after many ups and downs, we realized that we had never read a book that captured a relationship like ours. It was then that we started to think, “Well, maybe we should be the ones to write it. And write it together.”Q: What was the co-writing process like? Were you ever surprised by how the other person remembered certain stories? If so, how did you bridge those gaps?
A: This is both of our first time writing a book so we really went into it with no previous expectations or experience.We essentially had writing retreats where we could physically be in the same space for weeks at a time. Our process involved really long discussions about each chapter outline before sitting down to write. You won’t be surprised to hear that even when we were writing about the same event or a shared experience, we usually had differing perspectives on what had happened or how it had impacted us. It was great when we agreed but when we had diverging experiences, it was actually an opportunity to learn more about how the other person felt. We got to go over our entire
friendship with a fine tooth comb and that’s an experience we probably won’t have in any other relationship.Q: The book begins at a spa where you both try to fix your friendship. It’s clear from the start that the stakes are high. What was it like writing and sharing those vulnerable moments in your friendship?
A: All of the difficult moments you read about in the book are things we both feel resolved about now. If it’s in the book, you can be sure that we’ve talked about it with each other, we’ve processed it with our therapist(s), and we’ve done so much
reflecting on it individually. Our writing process involved a lot of discussions about boundaries, and together we decided which details were necessary to the story and which were too raw or personal to include. Like most things in life, writing the vulnerable parts was easier to do side-by-side with a friend.Q: A theme that emerges in the book is that it’s political to take friendships seriously. Did you always understand and frame friendships this way? Or is this something that came out of writing this book?
A: Friendship as a site of politics is a concept that we each understood before we met each other and it was vitally important in our other big friendships. We never explicitly discussed it in the early days but it’s definitely a huge part of why we became such close friends.Q: There’s a painful incident recounted in the book where Aminatou is disappointed to see that she’s the only Black person in a birthday party hosted in Ann’s home. It’s a profound chapter for its honesty and insight. What did you hope readers would learn from you sharing this incident?
A: On the simplest level, and we hoped that putting some of our experiences into words would lead to more conversations about interracial friendship. We’re hungry for more stories! We wanted to get into the sticky details of how the costs and benefits of interracial friendship are very different for each of us as a Black woman and a white woman, and prompt our readers to examine the nuances of privilege within their own friendships. Then our book happened to come out at a time when a lot of white people were newly engaging with the way racism has a maddening tendency to creep into all of our relationships. We hoped to remind readers that this is not a new phenomenon. That all friendships (yes, even friendships between two people of the same race) are affected by the fact that we live in a world that has been shaped by and built on racism, so it does not behoove us to ignore this fact. And that it’s possible to stay connected and be accountable to a friend of a different race.
Q: There are many useful and original concepts in the book like Friendweb, Shine Theory, and Stretching. How did you conceive and name these concepts?
A: Almost all friend groups have their own vocabulary and the friendweb was something that ours said for as long as we could remember. Shine Theory was coined when Ann wrote a magazine article about the way we mutually affirmed each other over the years and Stretching is a concept we came up when we were writing the book. We are definitely word nerds.Q: The book describes both of your career trajectories, the hardships, and innovative support networks, such as Friendwebs, you utilized to advance. A part of this conversation is that you reveal your salaries. How important was it to you to share your professional journeys with readers?
A: This sounds very moral-high-ground, but we really do try to practice what we preach! We wrote about the radical power of transparency in our chapter on Shine Theory, so we wanted to practice that transparency throughout the book. We think this would be a more equitable world if everyone were open about their professional path, their support networks, and, yes, their salary numbers.Q: Big Friendship points out that there is a lack of resources when it comes to friendships, despite it being one of life’s most important intimate relationships. This book feels like a corrective to this problem. Did you always intend that the book be read that way?
A: On the hardest days when our friendship was falling apart we both longed for a resource we could turn to and found nothing that addressed our specific problem: how do 2 real humans, not fictional characters (there is excellent friendship fiction) fix a broken friendship? We’re not experts so this isn’t self-help. We wanted to share our own story of failing and trying and finally getting it right. This was an invitation to readers who could see the contours of their own friendships in our experience. Our hope was that it would open up a conversation about the importance of friendship in a world that doesn’t give it its right due. Our experience isn’t universal or unique at all so we are dying to read books about all kinds of friendships. Big Friendship is our tiny contribution to a body of work we are deeply invested in.Q: What have you been listening to, watching, or reading that readers should take note of?
A: We are big fans of Mia Birdsong’s book How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community
. In some ways it feels like a companion to our book, and it’s full of inspiring examples of people who are rejecting the status quo to find their own meaningful ways of being in community with each other. We also devoured season four of Insecure
, which depicts Issa and Molly going through a rough patch in their big friendship. It resonated so
deeply with our own experience of being estranged from each other, and it was incredible to see some of those dynamics depicted on screen.Q: What do you ultimately hope readers will take away from the book?
A: That friendship can be the main course and not the dessert of life. That is worth shouting from the rooftops about. That friendship is hard work but it is also rewarding work that enriches your life and teaches you about yourself and how to be in the world.