A Novel Concept: Silent Book Clubs Offer Introverts A Space To Socialize
The air tingles with prose. Patrons perch atop bar stools, but they aren't drinking. Individuals congregate together as a group, but they aren't talking.
Paperbacks adorn a table stained by water rings, and tote bags dangle over the backs of chairs. Classic rock is blaring from the speakers, but at this table, silence rings out.
A Silent Book Club is meeting.
The concept is simple yet revolutionary: Members meet up at a bar, a library, a bookstore or any venue that will host them. Once the bell rings, silent reading time commences. After an hour, the bell rings again.
Other than that, there are no rules.
Liberated from the orthodoxy of traditional book clubs, participants can bring whatever they'd like to read and chat about anything, before and after the designated reading time.
The idea began with two friends reading together at a bar in San Francisco, annoyed by the assigned reading of a demanding book club.
"I wished that I had a book club where basically there was no assigned reading but you could just show up, hang out with your friends, talk about what you were reading and then just sort of read your book with no pressure to prepare snacks or vacuum your house or do any of the things that normal, traditional book club hosting entails," says Guinevere de la Mare, who co-founded the organization with Laura Gluhanich in 2012.
"And Laura was like, 'That sounds amazing. Let's do it.' And so we did."
Today, Silent Book Club has over 70 chapters for what de la Mare calls Introvert Happy Hour. Locations dot the globe, with congregants meeting monthly in Pakistan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and many other cities and countries.
The founders help interested individuals create new chapters by offering logistical assistance and social media suggestions. From there, de la Mare says, she lets each group do as it pleases, with the goal of creating spaces "where people can connect with like-minded individuals, even if all that they have in common is a love of reading."
Many clubs share book recommendations, or members go around in a circle to talk about what they're reading. Others exchange scholasticism for schmoozing, order drinks and become part of the barroom din that once pierced their silent reading time.
"Some people choose to talk about their book. Some people choose to talk about how they felt about the experience. Some people don't talk at all," says Ana Maria Panait, who started a chapter in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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The space is especially attractive to introverts who might have trouble energizing themselves to socialize and meet up with new people.
The designated silent time and built-in conversation topic make for a safe space in which introverted individuals can feel comfortable.
"It just relieves this ton of pressure around that horrible awkward small talk which I think is a big hurdle to a lot of people who don't want to go to parties," de la Mare says.
Mandy Shunnarah began her own chapter in Columbus, Ohio, which averages between 25 and 50 attendees each month.
"I would say that I'm an introvert who's really good at pretending to be an extrovert for small amounts of time," she says. "What I like about Silent Book Club is you get the community of a book club but without the homework. So there's less pressure to contribute to one single conversation or to make insightful comments about one particular book. I think it's more of a low-pressure social situation."
As chapters continue to pop up, silent bibliophiles are carving out spaces for introverts to find joy, comfort and camaraderie.
Socializing might not come naturally to all participants, but with books in tow, what follows is often organic.
Says Shunnarah: "We stay until the library kicks us out."
Josh Axelrod is a New Orleans-based journalist. His work has appeared on CNN and in The Jerusalem Post and The New Orleans Advocate.