Reading in Tandem

Silent Book Club is making noise in Birmingham.

By Javacia Harris Bowser // Photo by Megan Tsang Hand

Good writers read good writing—I say this a lot, especially when people ask me what they can do to improve their writing skills. But lately, I feel like a hypocrite. Because I am an English teacher I read all the time as I’m reviewing literature for lectures and lesson plans. But it’s rare that I read for the love of the written word or for the sake of improving my own writing.

Enter Silent Book Club.

Founded by Guinevere de la Mare, Laura Gluhanich, and Kristin Appenbrink in 2012, Silent Book Club started in California but now has chapters in cities all around the world —including Birmingham, thanks to Megan Tsang Hand, who launched a Birmingham chapter this year.

Hand says, “When I lived in California I had this culture of regularly reading with friends. We’d go on reading dates to coffee shops or the library and read for hours together. I thought the Silent Book Club would be a fantastic way for me to regain that lost aspect of my life and connect with other book lovers.”

The concept is simple. With Silent Book Club people who love to read gather for a couple of hours to do just that—read. There’s no pre-assigned book or formal discussion. You can read whatever you want. There’s time for socializing before and after reading time, but if you don’t feel like mingling you don’t have to. In fact, the founders of Silent Book Club often refer to it as “Introvert Happy Hour.”

Nonetheless, when I attended the first Silent Book Club Birmingham meetup, held in February at Sweet Jon’s Cafe in Homewood, the meeting room was buzzing during the designated social time. Over cookies, coffee and wine, more than two dozen attendees introduced themselves to one another and chatted about the book they brought to read.

After about 30 minutes of mixing and mingling, Hand got the attention of everyone in the room, made a few announcements and then let us know it was now time to read in silence. A friend who attended the meetup with me handed me her phone when it was time to read. She didn’t want the temptation of a screen to pull her away from her book.

“One of the greatest things about Silent Book Club is that it forces you to not only put down your phone and pick up a book, it also puts you into physical proximity with people who are all making a conscious choice to do the same thing,” says Silent Book Club co-founder Guinevere de la Mare.

The Silent Book Club Facebook group has over 20,000 members, but some people may not get the appeal. Why meet up with others to read silently when you could easily do this at home? But perhaps it’s not so easy.

“Everyone is stretched so thin these days,” de la Mare says, when asked why she believes Silent Book Club has become so popular. ”You have to physically pull yourself away from your phone to relax and unplug.”

I have to pull myself away from my phone and even my planner. When reading at home I’m thinking of the emails I should be responding to, the papers I should be grading, or the blog posts or freelance stories I should be writing. So I put down the book and get to work. But once all is checked off on my to-do list I’m too tired to read. So I plop down on the sofa and watch reruns of Criminal Minds.

At the February Silent Book Club Birmingham meetup I got to lose myself in the captivating stories of Gabrielle Union’s memoir We’re Going to Need More Wine. At the March meetup I dove into the essays of Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing. I wasn’t reading either of these books for any of my classes. I was reading them simply because I wanted to.

Despite the silent aspect of Silent Book Club, de la Mare and Hand both believe this club is about building community.

“The internet has really done a number on the social bonds that hold society together,” de la Mare says. “Today you have to make an effort to engage with people face to face. We should be doing everything we can to encourage folks to hang out in real life. Silent Book Club is a non-threatening way for a lot of people to do that.”

Hand even believes Silent Book Club can build community in a way that a traditional book club can’t.

“I feel like being in a book club where everyone is reading a different book naturally brings together different people, in contrast to a traditional book club which often cultivates a certain demographic,” Hand says. “At the Silent Book Club, I’m hoping you might meet someone who loves sci-fi who’s a professor at UAB sitting next to a new mom reading a parenting book, who’s sitting next to a former military serviceman reading about cars.” 

The Silent Book Club Birmingham meetups are held the first Monday of the month at 6 p.m. The April meetup is set to be held at Revelator Coffee Company in Mountain Brook, located at 2510 Park Lane Ct. S.

One Response to “Reading in Tandem”

  1. Sarah Warren says:

    I’m an 81 yo female. Unfortunately I do not drives night. Do you ever meet in the daytime or do you know of another chapter in the Birmingham area?

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