Shh, book club in session
Global club dedicated to reading together silently opens in SA
● 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.