Sunday Times

Shh, book club in ses­sion

Global club ded­i­cated to read­ing to­gether silently opens in SA

- By LEONIE WAG­NER Entertainment · Arts · Book Club · Whoopi Goldberg · San Francisco · Laos · Madonna · Steve Biko · Hong Kong · United States of America · Sweden · Goethe-Institut · Zakes Mda · Excelsior

● This is happy hour for in­tro­verts. Par­tic­i­pants whis­per con­tent­edly as they get com­fort­able in a room at the Goethe-In­sti­tut in Park­town, Jo­han­nes­burg.

The get-to­gether is all about words, but no­body speaks. This is the Silent Book Club, a meet­ing of vir­tual strangers brought to­gether by the love of read­ing, and where talk­ing is op­tional.

The con­cept is sim­ple: at­ten­dees bring a book they’d like to read, in­tro­duce their book to the group and an hour of quiet read­ing fol­lows. There’s a break to top up on wine — which is also op­tional — fol­lowed by an­other hour of quiet read­ing.

So­cial­is­ing af­ter­wards is op­tional, too. All man­ner of book for­mats are wel­come, even elec­tronic ones.

The first Silent Book Club meet­ing was held in 2012 at a French bistro in San Fran­cisco, as found­ing mem­ber Guin­e­vere de la Mare would write in her blog. She and friends Laura Gluhanich and Kristin Ap­pen­brink hatched a plan to take time out to read, and 40 chap­ters later the idea is still sprout­ing.

“Read­ing with friends is awe­some. We love hear­ing about what peo­ple are read­ing and we think it’s im­por­tant to put down our phones and be so­cial. Real, live, breath­ingthe-same-air so­cial, not heart­ing-you-onIn­sta­gram so­cial.”

The club may draw like-minded peo­ple, but they are in­ter­ested in a va­ri­ety of gen­res. Among the read­ing ma­te­rial at the sec­ond meet­ing of the Jo­han­nes­burg chap­ter last week was Zakes Mda’s 2002 novel The Madonna of Ex­cel­sior, Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, the New Yorker mag­a­zine and Shoe Dog: A mem­oir by the cre­ator of Nike.

Fi­nan­cial man­ager Elain Scheep­ers, one of the event or­gan­is­ers, hosted the city’s first Silent Book Club in Au­gust. The idea ap­pealed to her when she no­ticed that, even though she was read­ing a lot, she wasn’t al­ways able to fin­ish books be­cause of her busy sched­ule.

“The club cre­ates time to read and you get to meet like-minded peo­ple. This is a com­bi­na­tion of ad­ven­ture with read­ing be­cause every book club is held at a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion,” said Scheep­ers.

She reads a lot of tech­ni­cal ma­te­rial and the Silent Book Club was also a way for her to read dif­fer­ent ma­te­rial.

At this meet­ing she read a book she “stole” from her sis­ter’s room, Fly­ing to Nowhere by John Fuller, a work of his­tor­i­cal fan­tasy pub­lished in 1983.

Read­ing a South African clas­sic was soft­ware en­gi­neer Ja­son Man­ning, for whom the Silent Book Club was also his first ex­pe­ri­ence of any type of book club.

Man­ning said he “ab­so­lutely adored” the con­cept and found the space very ex­cit­ing. He has been an avid reader since pri­mary school but bat­tles to find time to read due to a busy sched­ule.

“It’s a bril­liant way to con­nect to other read­ers. I pre­fer this type of book club much more be­cause every­body has such dif­fer­ent tastes in gen­res,” he said.

In­tro­duc­ing his selection, Biko’s I Write What I Like, Man­ning said the book be­longed to his father and he hoped that read­ing it would help him con­nect bet­ter with his dad.

He said he had taken notes while his fel­low read­ers were in­tro­duc­ing their books.

“It helps ex­pand your knowl­edge in the sense that you get to find out what other peo­ple are read­ing. It then ex­poses you to new books you’d or­di­nar­ily not have found out about,” Man­ning said.

Than­deka Mukuku said she was able to fin­ish her book dur­ing the quiet read­ing ses­sion at the Silent Book Club.

She was ini­tially scep­ti­cal about the con­cept, Mukuku said, as “read­ing is some­thing one does at home”.

But, she said, she im­me­di­ately felt com­fort­able when she re­alised she was among book lovers.

“Cu­rios­ity about what oth­ers are read­ing” had drawn her to the club.

“Hav­ing been to the Silent Book Club, I al­ready have a list of four books I plan to read next,” she said.

“There was a sense of ‘alone but to­gether’. You are able to be lost in a book but not in the group,” Mukuku said.

The Silent Book Club might be new to Jo­han­nes­burg but there are chap­ters all over the world, from Hong Kong to the US and Swe­den.

The first Jo­han­nes­burg Silent Book Club hosted 25 book lovers, and last week 19 read­ers came out to share wine, nuts and the same space with each other — all for the love of books.

Each lasts about three hours, but can be stretched out, de­pend­ing on the reader. Venues and meet­ing times are shared with mem­bers via so­cial me­dia and news­let­ters.

 ?? Pic­ture: Masi Losi ?? Book lovers at the Silent Book Club at the Goethe-In­sti­tut in Park­town, Jo­han­nes­burg. Mem­bers men­tion what they are read­ing, then get on with it in si­lence.
Pic­ture: Masi Losi Book lovers at the Silent Book Club at the Goethe-In­sti­tut in Park­town, Jo­han­nes­burg. Mem­bers men­tion what they are read­ing, then get on with it in si­lence.

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