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Witty banter optional: The no-pressure, no-homework book club

Why We Wrote This

The solitary act of reading becomes more social – and maybe a little more competitive – at a typical book club. Here’s a middle-ground idea for the shy or homework-averse.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Amy Fairbrother and Keshav Ramaswamy dig into books during a Silent Book Club gathering at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston on Dec. 4, 2018. Club attendees read their own selections during the meetings, socializing before and after.

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Guinevere de la Mare had a meeting for a traditional book club coming up. She wasn’t fond of the selection, which she never finished. “I was really frustrated with the idea that I felt like I had homework as a woman in my late 30s,” Ms. de la Mare says. Her neighbor Laura Gluhanich in San Francisco agreed that their preferred book club would be outside their homes – they wouldn’t “have to vacuum and prepare beautiful platters of hors d’oeuvres” – and they could read whatever they happened to be reading at the time. No assignments. Today, Silent Book Club has more than 50 chapters all over the world. When the idea of hosting a group was pitched to her, Trident Booksellers’ Caitlin Kling says that “what sealed it for me was the ‘self care’ angle. The idea that we don’t set aside enough time to just sit down with a good book that we really want to read ... really resonated with me, and I loved that this would give people an opportunity to do that for at least an hour.”

It’s a book-loving introvert’s dream: Show up for a meeting and chat with fellow attendees for half an hour. Open your own book; silence reigns for an hour. Half an hour more of socializing follows after that. 

That’s a Silent Book Club, the creation of two friends who share an unease with small talk and a dislike of homework. Guinevere de la Mare remembers talking with fellow founder Laura Gluhanich when they were neighbors in San Francisco several years ago. Ms. de la Mare had a meeting for a traditional book club coming up and wasn’t fond of the selection, which she never finished.

“I was really frustrated with the idea that I felt like I had homework as a woman in my late 30s,” de la Mare says. The two agreed that their preferred book club would be outside their homes – they wouldn’t “have to vacuum and prepare beautiful platters of hors d’oeuvres” – and they could read whatever they happened to be reading at the time. No assignments. 

It was Ms. Gluhanich, according to de la Mare, who said, “That sounds awesome. Let’s do it.”

Silent Book Club now has more than 50 chapters all over the world.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Charlene Chow reads at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston on Dec. 4. The founding club was created by two friends in San Fransisco and has expanded to more than 50 chapters around the world.

“You can hang out with your friends and you can chat for a little while, and then when you hit that horrible moment of running out of small talk, you can just [say], ‘Oh, OK, now it’s time to read,’ ” de la Mare says. “I mean, it’s just such a dreaded moment.... It completely avoids the problem, ... and nobody’s judging you for it.”

The all-volunteer organization started in 2012, but de la Mare estimates they’ve doubled in size over just the last year. At first it was just de la Mare and Gluhanich and a growing group of acquaintances. Then a friend moved to Brooklyn and took their brainchild there.

Farther north in Toronto, Vicki Ziegler and about a dozen regulars have been meeting monthly for more than a year at a store called PRESS Books Coffee Vinyl. They wanted to support a local business, and meeting in a bookshop certainly has its advantages. “If a book gets mentioned during the book club, you can literally turn around, reach up, and grab the book off the shelf,” Ms. Ziegler says.

And there are a lot of recommendations among members. Ziegler says “Indian Horse” by Canadian writer Richard Wagamese has been read, and loved, by every member. They’re also generous lenders. This past summer, Ziegler lent a book that she hadn’t started yet. “It’s actually making the rounds now. And so at some point I’m going to get to read it. But I hear it’s good.”

The gatherings have been so popular that Ziegler has fielded requests from other members to meet more often. 

Kat Stone Underwood, public services librarian at Daniel Boone Regional Library in Colombia, Mo., says starting a Silent Book Club was “kind of selfish”: “I wanted to join one, but we didn’t have one anywhere near us,” she says. Ms. Stone Underwood was another person attracted by the lack of homework. “I’m very much someone who doesn’t like to read things that are assigned to me,” she says. The library’s chapter usually attracts six or so attendees per month. Stone Underwood thinks part of the attraction is that “you’re completely giving yourself permission to just read for an hour.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Manasa Davuluri (l.), Ashley Smith, and Charlene Chow discuss the books they’re reading at the start of a Silent Book Club meeting at Trident Booksellers and Cafe. The club is geared toward readers who prefer the lack of pressure to discuss a single book, as many typical book clubs do.

 

That notion was stressed at a recent Silent Book Club meeting at Trident Booksellers in Boston. When events and marketing coordinator Caitlin Kling was pitched the idea of hosting a group, “what sealed it for me was the ‘self care’ angle,” she writes in an email. She was also fully on board with the lack of assigned reading. “The idea that we don’t set aside enough time to just sit down with a good book that we really want to read ... really resonated with me, and I loved that this would give people an opportunity to do that for at least an hour,” she says.

But it was that ever-potent mixture of chatting and reading silently that brought in first-time attendee Ashley Smith.

“I've been trying to get out of the house more, and I love Trident as a store, and it sounds like a really cool idea,” she says. “I’m very introverted, so it’s a nice balance between being social and not.”

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