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Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

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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.

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 its pitfalls.

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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published July 14, 2020

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Aminatou Sow

2 books278 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,817 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
April 3, 2020
In a culture that primarily values romantic or familial relationships, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close is a necessary corrective. Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman offer a deeply compelling book that is part clear-eyed and poignant memoir of a big, invaluable friendship and part frank manifesto on how to nurture the important friendships in our lives in good times and bad. In each chapter, Sow and Friedman demonstrate how they navigate the nuances of their long-standing friendship with elegance, warmth, and generosity. This is the kind of book that makes you want to reach out to your best, biggest friends to say thank you, thank you, thank you for walking in this world with me. As with your big friendships, this unforgettable book is one you will want to keep close.
Profile Image for Ann Friedman.
Author 9 books657 followers
April 3, 2020
I co-wrote this book so let's be real, I am its harshest critic. And I can honestly tell you that I am very proud of this story Aminatou and I have told about the joys and difficulties of our friendship. I think we really managed to capture the ways that friendship feels both mundane and divine, both cozily supportive and frustrating beyond belief. We talked to some very smart experts and other friend pairs, too! I hope everyone who reads it is inspired to invest a little more deeply in their own friendships.
Profile Image for Ali.
9 reviews
July 1, 2020
This is entirely my about Aminatou and Ann's friendship; certainly not feminist theory, general friendship, self-help, or research that I thought the sub-title suggested. Rather, Aminatou and Ann share how they uphold their friendship. They're great, healthy, self aware friends - from which we all can learn, but I'm thinking this book is for fans of their podcast "Call Your Girlfriend" and not outsiders.
Profile Image for Brandice.
859 reviews
December 14, 2020
I was curious about Big Friendship as soon as I heard about it — There are lots of nonfiction books about romantic and family relationships but far fewer focused on platonic friendship. I wanted to like this but I didn’t. I have not listened to Aminatou and Ann‘s podcast Call Your Girlfriend and wasn’t familiar with them prior to reading this book.

Big Friendship focuses on a series of aspects of Aminatou and Ann’s friendship, including why it wasn’t always perfect. They discuss their backgrounds, their career challenges, boyfriends, moves, and more. No relationship (friendship or otherwise) is perfect but I did not connect with the trajectory and slow building tension of theirs. I do agree with Aminatou and Ann that communication styles and interpretations are different among people, and recognizing this is important in order to make any relationship work well.

I’m not knocking anyone for doing what’s best for themselves — That said, I would never go to therapy exclusively to save a friendship. With so many obligations existing in life already, I firmly believe friendships should work for you, and should be something you enjoy. Of course, investing the time to form a real friendship is a given, but if you’re not enjoying it, it’s time to move on — Sometimes people can (and do) outgrow each other. This was my biggest gripe with the book.

I realize not everyone will feel the same way. Readers already familiar with Aminatou and Ann and/or their work, or those who agree with more of their sentiments shared in Big Friendship might enjoy the book.
Profile Image for Mari.
705 reviews5,072 followers
July 26, 2020

I chose this as my July Book of the Month because of the subject matter, having no previous exposure to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I find that this was sort of a half this, half that kind of book that didn't fully commit to either thing it was trying to be. That said:

What didn't work for me: This book was part memoir of Sow and Friendman's friendship and half something else that was a bit self-help-y or just like... informative. Whether or not you will enjoy either of those bits is up to taste. I personally enjoyed hearing more about their friendship than I enjoyed reading the more self-help aspects. There were conclusions drawn directly from their experience, but the further away those conclusions got, the further from the personal, the more it read a little blandly. It wasn't quite informative enough or quite engaging enough for me. Essentially: I enjoyed the parts that no one else could've written because they were Sow and Friendman's story. Less so the parts that could've been written better by better writers.

The book is also written from a "we" perspective/voice or else the authors refer to themselves in the third person. I understood the choice to write this way, as a collective, but there were moments that it created awkwardness.

What worked for me: I grabbed my phone and immediately started texting a couple of my Big Friends. In exploring their relationship, there were so many things I saw reflected in my own. I felt deep appreciation for the friendships that have grown through different phases of my life and I loved the way they spoke about these friendships.

I think the biggest thing I'm taking away from here is awareness. I feel like this gave me a bit of a roadmap for how my friendships might need to change and grow though the years and the ways I might need to check in with my friends and do the work to maintain them. Second biggest takeaway is the language this provided to how I connect with my big friendships, from the spark that attracted us, to the pull to create things together, to the way we grow with and around each other.
Profile Image for jenny✨.
563 reviews803 followers
April 1, 2022
SO i saw the lukewarm reviews and ratings for this book and tempered my expectations, bracing myself for the very real possibility that i wasn't going to love big friendship.

and that was definitely the case when i read about sow and friedman's personal anecdotes. i didn't love, per se, reading about the mundane details of their lives.

theirs is a friendship between two upper-middle-class, working-professional millennials in america whose lives i couldn't really relate to. even as i got the big idea behind telling each story, i didn't personally connect to those stories myself (for example, they talk about how they would plan an annual, all-women "desert ladies" retreat for all their friends; ultimately this became a huge stressor on their friendship and sow stopped attending. i appreciated the honesty about how it strained their relationship, but i cannot fathom the appeal or restorative powers of such a retreat myself 😂).


there were so many nuggets of wisdom in this book. there was so much about this book that felt so, so affirming. most of all: i feel that there are not nearly enough books (fiction or non-fiction) that are published about friendship, and it was incredibly validating and heartening to read sow and friedman's experiences with and theories/research about friendship, compiled over years and across scholarly disciplines.

perhaps if more books on friendship existed i would not have found this one nearly so insightful. as it is, however, this is the only book i've encountered that has articulated thoughts and feelings i've had about my own friendships in a way that is comprehensible and meaningful to me.

for example, i appreciated the way they debunked the notion of the "squad" (or #squadgoals). i appreciated the recognition that friendship breakups are immensely painful experiences for which we don't have normative and easily accessible scripts or resources to cope. (as sow and friedman put it: just google “help I think my friend is breaking up with me” and take a gander at the paltry results.) i was also grateful for their clear appreciation of the unique and crucial importance of friendship, especially since friendships are often put on the back burner in favour of other relationships—the familial and romantic.

though i'm not so hot on the catchy names, i loved reading about sow and friedman's notion of shine theory, or choosing (actively and with intention) to empower and collaborate with friends rather than to compete with and undermine their accomplishments.

We came to define Shine Theory as an investment, over the long term, in helping a friend be their best—and relying on their help in return. It is a conscious decision to bring our full selves to our friendships and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. It’s a practice of cultivating a spirit of genuine happiness and excitement when our friends are doing well, and being there for them when they aren’t.

i ADORED reading their insights about interracial friendships. it made me feel very seen when they talked about the profound challenges that plague such friendships—less alone in my own experiences of disappointment and hurt with my friends and vice versa.

You don’t get to pick your family of origin or the place you grow up. But you do get to choose your friends, and those choices say something about the kind of world you want for yourself. This is one of the many ways friendship is political... We’re talking about small-p politics, or “the total complex of relations between people living in society,” as the dictionary puts it. White people can’t be surprised that white supremacists are marching in the streets if their own lives are racially segregated. The choices that each of us makes every day about who we include in our lives end up shaping the larger world we live in.

and—i'm in a place right now where i am in much need of solace and affirmation about big friendships, and particularly those that are dissolving. this came at a really good time for me, so i'm giving it this 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

Profile Image for Lily Herman.
543 reviews571 followers
April 25, 2020
If this book doesn't make you want to get up and call your best friend immediately, I don't know what will.

Seeing as I've been an avid reader, follower, and listener of Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman's work for over half a decade, I'll admit that I was already predisposed to really love this Big Friendship. Even if you've never heard of them or have maybe been on the fringes of their writing or podcasting, you're in for a treat.

Big Friendship tackles our cultural issues with giving platonic relationships the care and attention they deserve, both on a personal and an intellectual level. There's plenty of research and discussion around family dynamics and romantic relationships, but so often friendships get shunted off to the side when it comes to individual and societal introspection. Sow and Friedman tell the story of their own intense Big Friendship™ while masterfully weaving in larger conversations of how our friendships come together and fall apart, taking on everything from the unique struggles of interracial friendships to how friend breakups can often feel more devastating than romantic ones. There's also just a familiar ease to their writing that makes this an easy read.

While Big Friendship definitely stands on its own, I think a little extra context to Sow and Friedman can help you get the most out of this book and fall in love with their work; I recommend going down a slight rabbit hole and reading their popular article on Shine Theory and listening to an episode or two of their Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Again, it's not 100% necessary, but it does help in appreciating just how deep their Big Friendship goes and how poignant their thoughts are.
Profile Image for Shannon Leigh Jones.
10 reviews3 followers
November 11, 2020
This book is insufferable and unbearably self-important. I picked it from Book of the Month thinking it would be about best friends talking about female friendships in relatable way, not anticipating that it would be almost exclusively walking through their own friendship in painstaking detail. I guess if I were the number one fan of their podcast or maybe one of their mothers this self-pandering could be interesting. I hadn't heard of their podcast though. Unless you are creepy interested in mundane details of an average turned sour friendship or perhaps being held at gunpoint, I wouldn't bother.
Profile Image for Magdalena.
182 reviews33 followers
June 18, 2021
The best thing about this book is its sales pitch - the notion of putting friendship in the spotlight as a relationship that can be as improtant and meaningful as one's romantic links and is worth (and requires) as much effort and investment. That was lovely.

But the book itself is mostly a story of the authors' friendship, with some additional side notes and explanations thrown in as background dressing, and that friendship is not /that/ compelling (or at least, imho, not that compellingly written). Not to mention most of what's written here has been discussed before by the authors on their podcast, and I dare say, made for a more interesting discussion than a memoir. It's surprisingly thin on the substance, and even the central friendship often disappears in vague sentences that say surprisingly little. I recommend sticking to the podcast.

Side note: I've listen to the audiobook and the combination of familiar voices reading statements about each other in third person was a bit jarring.
Profile Image for Yelda Basar Moers.
184 reviews143 followers
July 13, 2020
I was excited about this book because I value my friendships so much and like the famous philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson I also believe that friendships are holy and sacred. But I found this to be a quite uneventful and unremarkable read. There is really nothing new or eventful I discovered or learned from this book about friendships, and though the two authors believe they have a "big friendship" I couldn't see it or feel it frankly. I never could understand why they had the problems that they did and why they were so drawn to each other in the first place. I think the book has a lot of editing issues and needed to be rewritten. The first 50 to 75 pages were completely boring and the book just never really lifted off after that!

This is not one of my usual more thorough reviews, but I'm experimenting with writing these reviews more for my friends here rather than for publication. I want to tell them from my own subjective experience, and with all the thousands of books I have read and my extensive reading experience, if a book is worth reading. As an editor and writer myself of a historical novel and having written a memoir too, I feel I can sense if a book is worth reading! Of course this is only my subjective opinion and I am writing this brief opinion in the interest of my reading pals!

Profile Image for Ali Whitson.
96 reviews6 followers
July 18, 2020
I was disappointed and this may be b/c of marketing or my misconception as to what the book was. I found it uneventful and unremarkable :/ There are too many good books out there to spend time on this one
Profile Image for Claire Reads Books.
137 reviews1,384 followers
August 18, 2020
Tbh, thinking about friendship as much as Ann and Amina do stresses me out (maybe I’m lucky that most of my platonic relationships are pretty easy while also being very fulfilling), but this was a nice tribute to their friendship and to friendship more generally – and a refreshingly serious consideration of a kind of social bond that many of us take for granted.
Profile Image for Becca Freeman.
Author 1 book3,049 followers
June 26, 2020
Did not know what to expect going into this book, but LOVED it! Really enjoyed how the narrative of Aminatou and Ann's friendship was interwoven with sociological research on friendship. Can't wait for it to come out so I can buy for all my BIG friends.
Profile Image for Sheena.
602 reviews264 followers
March 26, 2021
Not sure how to rate this if I should round up or down but strong 3.5 overall rating. Super important and interesting issues within friendship were delved into such as friendship such as race, friendship breakups, social media, and more. I think some of this was so validating but at the same time, this wasn't quite what I expected since most of it was about the authors friendship. We need more books on friendship out there!!
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
545 reviews9,867 followers
August 7, 2020
I really liked this book about deeply meaningful friendships. Mostly co-memoir but also a little research on friendship made for a richer experience. Made me want to call my best friend. Loved how this book gave value up our platonic relationships and the important ways they make us who we are. The book didn’t really have an ending nor did we really get to resolve the main conflict.
Profile Image for Sandy Nawrot.
839 reviews29 followers
August 3, 2020
I debated not even posting a review for this book, because I don't want to seem like an asshole. But if you know me, you know I'm going to speak my mind because I have to. I'll just try to use my filter. This book attracted me, like any book about friendship, because my friends are so precious to me. There are many days when they literally are what keep my head above water. And I like to hear how others feel the same. But this book was less about friendships in general and more about these two women and their causes.

Aminatou and Ann, two millennial women, describe their "meet cute" moment when they were at a mutual friend's Gossip Girl watch party and immediately knew they needed to be in each other's lives. They had an immediate connection, they loved each other's spark and clever minds, they related to each other's life challenges and need to belong. They got matching tattoos, wore matching best friend necklaces, and spent many hours on each other's couches. They developed the phrase "shine theory"...as in "if you don't shine I don't shine"...and started to promote a movement where women raise each other up. Over the years, they changed jobs, moved to opposite sides of the country, drifted in and out of relationships, even started a cross-country podcast together. Their friendship remained strong. Until it didn't. They started to drift apart, much to their confusion. What was happening? Aminatou was on the west coast and attended a birthday party Ann was hosting, and noticed she was the only black person there. This enraged and hurt Aminatou, and Ann had no clue. In random conversations they began to offend each other, step on each other's toes, and argue. They went to couples counseling to try to fix what was broken, and made them more aware of each other's hot buttons. Today they remain besties and are here to share what they have learned.

I want to recognize that everyone has different interests and passions. I don't want to ever minimize other people's feelings...just because I don't believe in or understand them doesn't mean they're not real. But I'm fairly sure I could not hang with these women. They represent a faction that march at all the protests, are highly sensitive over the smallest infraction, and are agitated at one thing or another most of the time. They have feminist manifestos. They hate Trump and believe that AOC and Ilhan Omar are the future. All of this is their right, but they are not people I can understand and I don't have much patience for this extra behavior. (Obviously I have never been an activist in any of my former lives.) I whole-heartedly applaud their raising other women up, I think that is beautiful. But going to couples counseling because they can't resolve their race issues, or saying that they never want to be someone's "starter black friend" is just too much drama for my life. Reading about this angst gave me a stomach ache. So what started out as a love letter to friendship went south quickly.

The audio production of this book was very entertaining. Each of the authors narrate, as well as other people quoted along the way. It sounded a bit like a podcast, and didn't require a huge amount of focus to get into their rhythm. You could tell they were used to using their voices professionally, and it translated well to this form of media.
Profile Image for Aolund.
1,303 reviews8 followers
October 12, 2020
I was hoping that this book would be something like the friendship version of bell hooks’ All About Love: spiritual, serious, flexible (i.e. expansive enough to hold many kinds of friendships without being completely abstract or vague). I expected it to theorize friendship and the way it’s held/constrained/made possible by race, gender, mental and physical health, capitalism, creative acts (of resistance), love, and more.

Instead, I found a book that read more like an extended behind-the-scenes tell-all for fans of the authors’ podcast (despite the fact that the book does not actually tell all and repeatedly skims where it could’ve deeply investigated moments of conflict, love, and succor between the two authors). Written in a style that is breezy to the point of ostentation, rife with extraneous millennial parentheticals and peppered with some inane transcribed text threads, the book was really disappointing almost right away. Of course there can be value in including emails and texts in books and literature, and a breezy affect can perhaps support or make inclusive serious conversations, but here I was not convinced. So much of the book is about Ann and Aminatou (the authors also write about themselves in the third person throughout the book, which has a grating, distancing effect) and their particular brand of millennial, upwardly-mobile, yuppie/bougie, “feminist™” friendship that I came to feel they couldn’t see the forest for the trees: were they really investigating and honoring friendship and all its possibilities, or were they just consolidating their personal brand?

It is not hard to answer this question: the book is extremely limited by its failure to take a critical approach to capitalism, its failure to ask more of itself, its readers, and the world in its discussion of race and interracial friendship, and, broadly, its inability to reach the unguarded, actively loving, honest, sometimes-uncomfortable-but-always-fertile space that I, at least, aspire to in my friendships.

The book spends a lot of time narrating the two authors’ career trajectories and financial status. Perhaps the authors’ thought this a relevant throughline because of the way their friendship and financial lives are entangled (see: Call Your Girlfriend, this book), but I found it disappointing. The best we can hope for is not that our friends will help us network towards “shining” in this White supremacist capitalist system, which is effectively the argument Sow and Friedman make. The best we can hope for is that our friends will join with us to bring this system down and create new possibilities in its place, will help us imagine big and small ways to fight this fight even when all the battles seem like foregone conclusions.

The chapter about interracial friendship was also disappointing. The chapter ends with the sentences “We know that we are never going to stop having hard conversations about race. The best we can hope for is that there’s always a sympathetic bartender in the vicinity” (138). Emphatically—no. Again, this is not the best we can hope for. Such a concluding sentence to a chapter that should have been momentous and challenging felt disappointing and even damaging.

There are parts of this book that are funny, interesting, and informative. The historical facts, research, and insights gleaned from interviews with other authors and experts were often fascinating and useful. But if you are interested in reading and thinking about friendship in a way that you feel in your gut and your heart and your spirit—that asks you to really get honest and imaginative about its potentialities—as opposed to being interested in Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman and their glossy brand of friendship, Big Friendship is not the book you are looking for.

These are excerpts from the even longer review of this book that I have posted to my blog: https://aolundsmith.wixsite.com/bookc...
15 reviews
August 14, 2020
I'm going to preface my review by saying that I am a big fan of the podcast and have been listening since the beginning. I find these ladies to be intelligent and articulate and relevant, and this book has not changed that view.

I was excited but wary about reading this book, as getting to better know your (insert appropriate label for respected public figure here) can often "ruin" it for you, as it will likely change your view of them somehow.

As I prefaced, my view of them has not changed-at least not the important parts- but the book felt so much smaller than what I was expecting it to be from their discussions, from marketing, from my baseline of their typical podcast content.

The things that went wrong for me were:
1. The words did not feel natural. Especially the switches between 'We' and then writing about 'Ann' and 'Aminatou' in the third person.

2. I know this is a book based upon their own personal friendship journey and what they learned, but the blow-by-blow walkthrough of each significant event wasn't the most engaging or exciting read for me. At times, it might have helped me remember similar situations I'd gone through with my own friends, but ultimately, it made me feel I had too much information on something that could have been edited and summarized more efficiently, as well as which could have then diverged into a larger conversation on the theme of friendship, and not just their own account. (That is what I thought the book would be.)

3. There was a tone (yes, the dreaded, interpretative ~tone~) to a lot of the Big Messages (like on race) that ended up alienating me. I often felt like I was reading something that, had it been received through the casual conversation-eavesdropping format of the podcast, I would have nodded my head along as I listened, but reading directly and knowing that message was directed at ME the reader felt like a lecture. One that overgeneralized my role/contributions/crimes/action, etc. It felt pointed in a direction of assumption. This is how I received it and it definitely turned me off.

4. There was an awkward feel to the "rebuttals" when the authors were writing about themselves in the third person. As if they wanted to make sure their reputation was salvaged after the other had had a chance to write about how they had interpreted their actions and been hurt by the interpretation. The words felt painstaking while establishing that they had no intent of hurting the other and here is what they were thinking instead...

All that critique to say, I would still want to read something else that these authors produce together. I definitely still feel as though they have important things to say and opinions that I want to hear. They are figures that I respect and value. I just did not appreciate the detailed account of their own story as it did not end up adding to my view on Friendship in general.

I will end with a positive takeaway, though. Reflection on Friendship did occur during the reading of this book. I imagine it would be hard not to reflect upon your past and current friend relations while reading the intimate details of another friendship. I benefited from this "forced" reflection. I decided to make some moves that I had been hesitant to make. Reading about Aminatou and Ann confronting their challenges and working on them together encouraged me to confront some things, as well. I do appreciate this.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews314 followers
October 1, 2020
This book was a beautiful, extremely well-executed testament around putting the effort in when it comes to maintaining close personal friendships.

Protecting real friendship is like protecting any other relationship you're in. We work at marriages and trying to build connections between siblings, etc. but when it comes to things that may deconstruct in a friendship, we're much less likely to really put the effort in to save that relationship because we have this belief that friendships just run their course after awhile. It's wild that you can go from being best friends with someone to being complete strangers. As a person who actively tries to be there for the ones I love, I love that this book really jumps into the work we have to do for real to work at being there for your real friends. There are so many gems in here to share.

I love how open Aminatou and Ann were with their struggles and how many layers down they went to expose their respective places of hurt, how transparent they got to uncover what rest transpired in their BIG friendship. I liked their young woman on the grind stories too. Moving around for work, trying to find love and make money. It gave me hustle but without the "hustle harder" aesthetic. I respect both their grinds.

I love that they explored the intricate dynamics of having a interracial best friendship. I related to Aminatou and Ann discussing how much work black women have to do in these contexts and the necessity to have to be able to split that load with a white bestfriend to feel actually cared for. I can't be the one to explain the whole shit of my existence to my friend; they have to take it upon themselves to educate themselves no matter how awkward they may feel if they really wanna fuck with me on a real level. I felt seen in those passages as a girl who has both black and white male & female close friends.

I enjoyed learning about Shine Theory and I love how they protected that brand that they built together along with their podcast Call Your Girlfriend. Their brand protection efforts taught me something about making real moves, aka money moves, and getting a lawyer, knowing your worth, protecting your shit. Going to therapy together, they protected their investment in each other as well.

One of my biggest takeaways was this line:
"One person can’t unilaterally decide to fix a friendship. Repair is a choice that two people have to make. " 73% in 'Big Friendship' by Aminatou Sow; Ann Friedman

Truth to power! That line is really the truth of the matter. Most people only hope to be so lucky to have friends that actually care enough work at their relationship. If you've got a friend like that, hold that friend close.
Profile Image for Leah.
648 reviews87 followers
December 7, 2020
I thought this was a personal development self improvement sort of book... I was incorrect lol I don't even know Aminatou and Ann from their podcast "Call Your Girlfriend." This book is for the fans of the podcast and not outsiders!!!

This book is entirely about Aminatou and Ann's friendship. Aminatou and Ann share how they uphold and maintain their friendship.

Sadly I didn't get anything out of this book.
Profile Image for shiloh.
33 reviews17 followers
July 8, 2020
I got this book from Book of the Month, and wasn't sure what to expect! I'm very big into the idea that friendships are oftentimes more important than our romantic relationships, and that a friend breakup can hurt way worse than a romantic breakup, so the topic of the book definitely appealed to me. "Big Friendship" gave me a lot to think about when it comes to sustaining, understanding, and communicating in my own friendships (current or past, "Big" or otherwise). I especially appreciated the sections about stretching for your friends versus straining for them, and approaching friendships with a mindset of resilience instead of effortlessness. Lots of practical insight that comes from the authors' own friendship (which they also examine critically!). Would recommend this book to anyone who's interested in learning about their friendships on a deeper level, or who wants to learn more about what it takes to maintain a relationship for the long haul.
Profile Image for Panda Incognito.
3,187 reviews57 followers
August 1, 2020
I wanted this book to be very different than it is. It is totally a memoir, not a general study on friendship, and the friends go into excruciating levels of detail about their origin story, the process of getting to know each other, and about what they like to do together. If I followed their podcast, I might be like, "Wow, I love how down-to-earth and relatable they are! Friendship goals!" But since I picked up this book with no knowledge or existing appreciation of the authors, I just found it incredibly boring. I do not care what snacks they like to eat, or what clothes they would or wouldn't wear in each other's living rooms, or what their inside jokes were.

They are also snide and superior about their political views, share long and convoluted stories about their corporate experiences and job transitions, and spend way too many pages covering biographical details that are important and personal to them, but which do nothing to support the narrative of their friendship or the overall theme of deep, important platonic bonds. I skimmed quite a bit in the first half. Even if this stuff was on a personal blog, I would still think that it was self-indulgent, but the fact that they published some of these long and unnecessarily detailed stories is a cry for a better editor.

What got me through this book was my appreciation for the theme. Friendship is one of the most important things in my life, and because I have never been in a romantic relationship and have no interest in dating, my friends are the source of my deepest connections and biggest, most intense highs and lows. As the authors repeatedly mention here, our society does not treat friendship with the respect or seriousness that it deserves, and even though they share details from some social science studies about it, they emphasize how rare and unusual it is for people who study relationships to address friendship at all, instead of exclusively focusing on intimate partner and familial bonds.

This book does a great job of emphasizing the importance of friendship, pushing back against social expectations that super close friendships must be sexualized, or that it's natural and appropriate to drop a friend and move on with your life without discussing it with them or attempting to work through problems. The authors engage with the profound influence of friendships on someone's life and well-being, but I wish that they had focused more on these general issues, instead of sharing mind-numbing details about their routines and shared experiences.

The part of the book that I enjoyed, and which made it all worthwhile, was in the second half. Here, they began to address some of the things that can make friendship so hard, such as life transitions, chronic illness, geographical distance, and both petty and serious complications within one's extended "friendweb." The authors also co-write a chapter about how they have navigated potential and active racial tensions in their friendship. Ann is white and Aminatou is an African immigrant, and even though the specific issues that they have experienced won't apply to every interracial relationship, I appreciate that they included raw and tender details about this topic, instead of idealizing their diverse friendship without being honest about how challenging it has been at times.

My favorite part of the book was about how they processed and worked through a potential death knell to their friendship. This part of the story was meaningful, relatable, and full of courage and hope, because they were honest about how they grew apart over time, and about how their different communication styles and narrative of "sameness" made it difficult for them to address minor conflicts and misunderstandings as they arose. They ended up going to therapy to work through their differences and save the relationship, and even though they acknowledge that "the sticker shock was real" and that most people won't be able to do this, they share their best lessons from therapy and use this as a testament to the value that they place on their platonic bond.

This part of the book was very powerful, and I was glad that I had persevered and skimmed to get to this point. Finally, after all of their cutesy stories and surface-level emphasis on various social issues, they delved into what it really looks like to deal with relational challenges, process intense emotions about them, and avert a friendship break-up. I have never read something this intense and personally detailed outside of my own journals, and it was cathartic and meaningful for me to read about how they valued their friendship and pushed through issues that colorful social media banners would have told them were toxic deal-breakers.

I really appreciate their sensitive and personal portrayal of how to deal with a floundering friendship. What little nonfiction there is about friendship usually idealizes the Girlfriend Bond, and most of this book was no better, and often worse. This was where it got real and personal, and where I slowed down to read every word. Usually, to read anything about friendship struggles, I turn to books about marriage, because they cover many of the same dynamics of misunderstandings, life changes, and communication breakdown. It was incredibly wonderful to read something that was actually addressed to platonic friendships, and even though I didn't learn anything new, I got to see some of my most challenging circumstances and dynamics expressed on the page in a way that I never do.

I especially appreciate their emphasis on how important it is to be willing to be vulnerable, communicate, and drop one's guard to be able to salvage a friendship, instead of always leaving it in the other person's court. They also address the ways that our society alternately exalts friendship and encourages people to drop their friends with no apology or explanation whenever the relationship becomes difficult or the other person hurts you. Although the authors acknowledge that some friendships truly are "toxic" and unhealthy, they push back against the convenient label of toxicity for anything that has become difficult to maintain or is no longer self-serving. They elevate the importance of self-sacrifice and being in it for the long haul, drawing on couple's therapy guidance instead of the kind of self-serving, self-absorbed advice that people share on social media under the guise of personal empowerment.

As you can see, I have a lot of strong feelings and reactions to this book. I wouldn't usually write such a long review of a book that is only three stars, not better or worse, but this was very complex, and my reaction to it is complex as well. This book aggravated and bored me, and it also moved me to deep emotion, allowing me to see some of my core values and most important life experiences respected and honored instead of treated as second-best and disposable in comparison to a romantic attachment.

However, one other complaint that I want to mention is that even though the authors write about complications with an extended friend group, they do not address the common reality of one friend moving on from a "best friend" relationship to become closer to someone else. Since they have apparently never experienced this with each other, it makes sense that it is not part of their memoir, but this is a universal problem as old as time, and it's hard for me to imagine how someone could write an entire book about friendship without even mentioning this common dynamic and the pain that it causes. They never even give lip service to the reality of the jealousy, confusion, and possessiveness that this causes, and provide absolutely zero advice for coping with this kind of change.

Even when they write about the toll that life transitions take on friendship, they only mention moves, job changes, illnesses, new romantic partners, and parenting. They never even mention the problems that arise when a best friend meets a new friend and moves out of the original friend's orbit while the original relationship is still very close and well-maintained, and that is a testament to how self-absorbed this book is. The authors cared so much about their own story that they went into mind-numbing detail about the kinds of snacks that they like, but they did not bother to address one of the most common and painful friendship dynamics of all time. Early reader chapter books address this issue better than an adult book entitled Big Friendship, simply because the chapter books actually bring it up.

This is probably the most scathing review I've written for a three-star book in a long time. Because of the issues that I have with this book, I would only recommend it to people who love the authors' podcast or are deeply, profoundly committed to the importance of friendship in their daily lives and want to read about how to value, fight for, and save a close friendship. The primary value of this book is in the deep exploration of conflict in the final third, and unless someone new to the authors' work is hugely interested and invested in the topic of friendship, they are unlikely to have the stamina to get to that point.
5 reviews
August 15, 2020
There's a moment in the book where they are discussing prominent examples of Big Friendship and land on Oprah & Gail as the epitome of what women want in a life defining friendship. I can get behind this as a jumping off point, and interestingly they point out that the dynamic friend duo keeps their challenges and disagreements close to the vest; we know so many "intimate" details of their relationship because they don't air their dirty laundry, and in effect people believe they have a "perfect" friendship. I think the authors believe they are building upon Oprah & Gail's friendship narrative and taking it a step further, evolving into this concept of Big Friendship by admitting that it's not always an organic garden of happiness. But I'd argue that they barely reveal themselves in this book, and instead actually present a facade of vulnerability and expose little.

I came to this book after listening to the authors on the Death, Sex, & Money podcast, and sadly I'd say that hour was better than the book. I decided to buy the audio book because I already knew I liked their actual voices, and because I was going to be in the car for a bit that weekend and needed a good listen. I will agree with others that the back and forth on writing perspectives was jarring, not to mention the added back and forth of the two women actually talking in the audio book, clunky to say the least.

I'll also echo other reviews that it has a crisis of identity and the few times it actually discussed some research and dug into concepts of female friendship, I was totally on board. But even in these moments they barely scratched the surface. The big crux - that couples counseling essentially saved and repaired their relationship - could be such an interesting story, but their faux vulnerability meant we weren't actually privy to the process. Obviously opening up about something so personal is not easy and readers are not entitled to it, but the authors seem to believe that they are, in fact, baring their friendship's soul when in reality they build up to this climax only to resolve it far too quickly and with little detail. If I'm being honest, and cynical, I believe the authors believe they have succeeded in making you think they gave you the dish but in reality, like Oprah & Gail, they successfully maintained a solid wall between their personal and performative relationship - having their cake and eating it too.

Mostly the book felt like one big commercial for their brand(s) with very little depth. I also think it would be exhausting to be friends with either one of them. Both were high achieving millennials who worked very very hard to get all A's, perform the best in every sport and activity, get into good colleges, and have a resume worthy of parental approval (Sow actually confesses to the latter), and so it is only natural for them to see friendship as another life category at which to perform perfectly for top marks.
Profile Image for Zuri.
109 reviews23 followers
November 2, 2020
So the second half of this book is better than the first, which is unfortunate bc I can see why you would wanna stop before you got there! I listened to the audiobook which is read by the authors + guest voices from some of their friends they quote. It's personal preference but I tbh do not like to hear many different voices in an audiobook. Also for some reason they use all different person pronouns, saying “I” and “we” but also reading their own names “Ann says” etc, so that was just a weird choice. I had a CYG period where I listened weekly, but I haven't listened to the podcast regularly in a few months. But I always enjoyed it and think Ann and Aminatou are good at what they do, and fun and interesting and good storytellers. That being said, the book wasn't great. The subtitle "How we keep each other close" belies the actual content, which is kind of memoir style of their friendship that offered little new info if you are already aware of them, a couple of quotes from books or studies about friendship, and then in the end a few chapters of a good discussion of the importance of friendships. It could've gone a lot deeper, but maybe Ann & Aminatou aren't the right people to write that book. If you're interested in more academic/theoretical/critical discourse on friendship maybe check the references for a better read. The main things that bored me with this were its big focus on the capitalist advantages of friendship. And I want all my besties to be well paid and supported in whatever work they do, but my friendships are not at all predicated on the work that they do, or about helping each other become CEOs. I had heard of their "shine theory" concept before and didn't remember it being about helping your friends become their "best selves" in regards to work, political goals, money etc. And I simply do not care about that. I also listened to Ann & Aminatou on another podcast (death sex & money I think) talk about their breakup moment where Aminatou goes to a party at Ann's house and is the only black person there so I went in knowing that. I understand being turned off by that moment but in the book Aminatou does say that it wasn't the first time she had been the only black person at an Ann shindig, so it didn't make sense to me why this was the time it broke or why they couldn't just talk about it? So I listened to all of that with a confused face. So not really sure what the audience for this book is or...why it was written. Like I said, it does get better towards the end, but honestly I listened to less than two weeks ago and I can't even remember why I thought that? Like everything I thought was good has already left my head. Anyway if I didn't discourage you, it's only 5 hours!
Profile Image for Oyinda.
661 reviews156 followers
December 27, 2020
Title: Big Friendship - How We Keep Each Other Close
Author-Narrators: Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I absolutely loved this book!!! It is an important piece of feminist literature that exalts female friendship like I've never read before. One of the biggest talking points in this book is how underrated platonic friendships are, especially female friendships, and how society never really expects you to put too much effort into them.
With their friendship and with this book, this author-narrator duo has shattered so many stereotypes and misconceptions about female friendships. They completely obliterated and debunked they myth that female friendships are fake, toxic, vile, nonexistent, etc. We got to see so many instances of amazing women showing up and being there for each other!!! They have highlighted the importance of female friendships, and why you need a strong female friend or more in your life as a woman.
Apart from talking about and taking us through their own friendship, they discuss a lot of issues important to women like equal pay, workplace sexism, and climbing up the career ladder. They also talk about friendship webs and the benefits and dangers of bringing your friend groups together. Long distance friendship is also explored in depth.
Not every chapter of this book shows the rosy parts of their friendship. I love that the book starts out at a point during the toughest time in their friendship. From there, the friendship is retraced to the beginning and they examine in detail what worked and what didn't. I've never heard of either of these women before this book, and I've never listened to an episode of their podcast. That did not stop me from loving every bit of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the co-narrators recount their friendship from before they even met.
Every woman and girl needs to read this book!!!
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,211 followers
August 16, 2020
Go with audiobook on this one, since listening to these two best friends perform the book about their friendship is excellent, and the cameos from experts is a big bonus.

A solid read about how little information or support there is for Big Friendships -- think the best friendships -- despite it being a powerful intimate relationship in so many of our lives. I love that these two went to couples therapy to work through challenges in their friendship and they're very open and candid about the challenges of maintaining closeness, despite how close it seems their friendship is. There's a big difference between performing and living the friendship, and this book delves into what those differences might be.

They dig into the unique difficulties of an interracial friendship, especially when it comes to a socially-conscious white woman just...not getting it and how much that can hurt the friend of color.
Profile Image for Khushboo.
5 reviews45 followers
August 25, 2020
Our society doesn’t value friendships as “real” relationships. Contrary to the norm, I have always valued my friendships and prioritized them over some familial and romantic relationships. So I was really excited to read this book because I felt seen.

It’s a part memoir and part manual on how to foster lasting friendships. It was affirming to read about Aminatou and Ann overcoming difficult times in their relationship by putting in the work. And while the book doesn’t reveal any groundbreaking truths about friendships; I did find validation in how I approach mine. I read this with a few of my close friends, with whom I believe I share a Big Friendship, and it was a great way to be able to talk about our relationship on a deeper level. I would definitely recommend reading with a friend!
Profile Image for Frosty61 .
852 reviews23 followers
August 10, 2020
I tried but this wasn't my cup of tea. I didn't care for the format or the weird way the authors referred to themselves in the first person sometimes and other times in the third person - all in the same chapter. I skimmed until I reached the part where (spoiler) they went to a therapist to help salvage their friendship. This information is a long time coming with many chapters describing their backgrounds and insights into friendships- I lost interest. DNF
Profile Image for Alli McCann.
212 reviews3 followers
March 22, 2022
I listened to this as an audiobook and honestly think that’s the way to do it. It’s clear these ladies are podcasters; the book was super engaging, and I didn’t want to stop listening at any point.

That being said, the whole concept of this book resonated hard with me and made me surprisingly emotional. I struggled with “finding my people” as a child and teen, and it wasn’t until college and adulthood that I really felt I was able to create a community of friends who saw and understood me for who I am. I have been fortunate beyond words to create some big friendships in my adult life, and I found myself reflecting on our bonds and shared experiences as Aminatou and Ann shared their story.

If you are, like me, a self-proclaimed “girls’ girl” and someone who knowingly or not practices Shine Theory, this is a must-read. It gave me a lot to reflect on, and I know I’ll be thinking about friendship and what it takes to sustain it differently for a long time. As the authors say, “At a cultural level, there is a lot of lip service about friendship being wonderful and important, but not a lot of social support for protecting what’s precious about it. Even deep, lasting friendships like ours need protection—and, sometimes, repair.”
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