Silent Reading

Remember how in school we were sometimes asked to read aloud a poem or text to rest of the class, and sometimes we were told that we had to do ‘silent reading’ in which each of us was to read silently to ourselves? I recalled this when I recently read about a concept that is apparently becoming popular. The idea of a silent book club!

The name itself is a bit of an oxymoron.  A book club conjures up a picture of a group of bibliophiles earnestly meeting at designated intervals to discuss at length the ‘assigned’ book. Silent reading brings to mind the concentrated academic reading done in a library, or the simple joy of curling up in a favourite chair with a friendly book; and most often this contentment is a solitary pleasure enjoyed in one’s own home.

The Silent Book Club combines the act of reading, surrounded by other people in a common space, with each person engaged in ‘silent reading’ of their own book. The concept was started in 2012 by two friends in San Francisco–Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich. While both loved to read, and also enjoyed the idea of having someone with whom to discuss something they had read, they were equally uncomfortable with book clubs and the pressures of assigned readings and presentations. They imagined a situation where friends could meet together, but with each one reading whatever they liked for a designated time; after which the option to mingle and share remained open.

Unexpectedly, this simple idea has started to become global movement with chapters of the Silent Book Clubs opening in towns and cities across the world. The mandate is simple–bringing people and books together once a month to read in companionable silence in what the founders describe as “introvert happy hour!”

I was intrigued when I read about this concept. Even amused when I read that people are willing to pay handsomely for sitting in a café and drinking coffee while browsing through their book. Why? Because they feel that they cannot make the time for this at home, what with the continuous and overbearing demands of their virtual universe, and distractions of Netflix! Imagine having to wean yourself away from social media for just a couple of hours by physically putting yourself in an alternate space! And I wonder, after the designated time, would one be able to put aside a gripping murder mystery book for the next month, without finding out ‘whodunnit’?

Somewhat difficult for me to get wildly excited over! Luckily for me, (or so I believe) I belong to generation where books were as much a part of, and way of life, as eating and sleeping. When reading could happen at anywhere, anytime, without needing to carve out a special time and space for this. And reading was for one’s own pleasure, rather than an activity to be seen and heard being done. I can’t but help feeling a bit sorry for a generation that needs to be lured into ‘switching off’ and opening a physical book for the simple joy or reading. But if that’s what it takes today, I’m all for it!

The words of Hermann Hesse on the magic of books are reassuring, and timeless: “We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. …And for every true reader this endless world of books looks different, everyone seeks and recognizes himself in it… A thousand ways lead through the jungle to a thousand goals, and no goal is the final one; with each step new expanses open.”

–Mamata