Shush goes the book club
Cities like Mumbai and Delhi are seeing the rise of a new kind of book club where people gather at pubs and cafes to read in silence
Imagine being at a bar where you are served a glass of red wine along with a book. Or a café where you sample the latest Tom Clancy thriller while sipping a hot cappuccino. Nothing comes between you and the pages for a full hour, not even those office calls that otherwise make you go out of the movie theatre, leaving behind a frowning partner. Sounds too good to be true? Welcome to the ‘silent’ book club.
The idea of a silent book club was thought up by two friends, Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich, in 2012 in San Francisco, and now has 70 chapters worldwide. Its Delhi chapter opened two weeks ago with its first meetup at Sidecar, a café-cumbar in Greater Kailash II.
Publishing professional Rachna Kalra, who set it up in the city, came across the concept in an article a couple of months ago. “I know enough people who l ove to read but don’t manage to take out time, especially when they’re home. It could be because t hey’ r e busy with chores, ringing doorbells, or other things that they just get caught up with. So I thought I’d give this a shot and see if I could get enough readers together on a regular basis to lounge, read, and if they feel like, to chat,” she says.
It mostly works like this: members and enthusiasts come to a café carrying their own books once every month on a Sunday. For an hour or two, they read in silence while enjoying food and drinks. There’s no pressure to intelligently discuss the book or read one particular book as in regular clubs, though attendees are free to discuss and socialise.
In this, we see the merging of two traditions — one ancient and one modern. In ancient times, reading was never a silent activity nor private. Across cultures, reading aloud and in groups was pretty much standard. In ancient India, we get evidence of it in a Smriti that prohibits a Shudra from hearing the Vedas, implying that these were read aloud. In Europe, a person who read in silence, going against the norm, was considered rude.
But with the coming of the printing press and newspapers, reading became an increasingly private affair. Yet as late as the 19th century, Europeans feared that peopl e who read alone in silence, especially women, were prone to sexy and dangerous thoughts. Now with too many distractions at home, many book lovers are experimenting with reading in public spaces. Mumbai resident Shiva Srikant, who has been attending silent reading sessions organised by The Reading Social for the last three years, says it has revived her passion for reading. “Due to work pressure, and TV and Neflix, my reading habit took a backseat. Now, these two hours on Sunday morning force me to sit and read. It’s an amazing concept, especially for people who want to read and not be disturbed,” Srikant says. The Reading Social charges Rs 600 per head, which includes coffee and breakfast. Srikant doesn’t mind the money. “The venue and ambience are great, and the people who come are sensitive enough to put their phones on silent mode. So we get to read in pin-drop silence. Then after the reading hours, we get to discuss books and meet new people.”
Sandeep Malhotra, who co-founded the club with friend Rashmi Barua, says it is not a traditional book club. “We are here to celebrate the act of collective reading. Once a month, we organise three-hour sessions where people bring their own books. For two hours, people read in silence, and the third hour is for book discussion or interaction,” says Malhotra. The club tries innovative ways of pairing participants, who could be total strangers, for discussions at the end of the silent reading hours. “We assign numbers to people. Say 1-5. People who get the same numbers become a pair. We also try to pair fiction readers with non-fiction readers,” says Malhotra, who owns a mental health startup called Betterly.
Freelance editor Anupam Choudhury, who has attended the Delhi chapter, feels Indian cities need to experiment with this concept more and expand it further. “In a city like Delhi where there aren’t many community spaces, there could be sheds at say India Gate or National Museum for people to read. We will then be a more well-read and well-informed nation.”
READING ALONE, TOGETHER: Once a month on a Sunday, bibliophiles bring their own books to a cafe or bar and spend an hour or two reading in silence while enjoying food and drinks, and then socialise