How two women quietly reading books in a SF bar sparked an introverted revolution

(Originally published January 7, 2020. The group is now reuniting in lineevery second Sunday of the month.)

In 2012, Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich were sipping wine at Bistro Central Parc, a cozy French restaurant near the Panhandle in San Francisco, decorated with twinkling garlands. They complained about book clubs.

“The club I was in at the time was reading a book that didn’t interest me,” recalls de la Mare. “I had a baby at home and didn’t have much time, but there was so much pressure to finish the book that I would have something to say at the meeting.”

Almost everyone who has been to a book club has a problem to solve. Great personalities dominate the discussion. You are expected to read a brick of a thousand pages in a single month. The books you choose are too literary, or not literary enough. Janice did not participate in wine and cheese.

Casually, de la Mare described the drama-free book club of her dreams to her friend: a club where all she had to do was meet people at a bar with the book she was reading. No deadlines imposed. No reading books she didn’t want to read. No need to vacuum the house. No preparation of deviled eggs or canapes.

Gluhanich loved the idea. Why not make it a reality?

And it’s exactly like that Silent book club started. Two friends in San Francisco, reading quietly in a bar, which led to a global phenomenon with 50,000 online members and over 180 active chapters in 20 countries.

Their first meeting was at Wine Kitchen on Divisadero, where they sat down together, ordered drinks, and pledged to read at least one chapter before continuing the conversation.

It surprised them how something as small as two reading women could stop people in their tracks.

“If you look around a bar or a restaurant, look at how many people stare at their phones without speaking. It’s a cultural norm,” de la Mare said. “But if you replace a screen with a book, all of a sudden it gets a lot of attention.”

Through word of mouth, other friends found out about the Silent Book Club and asked to join. In 2015, a friend moved to Brooklyn and started her own chapter there.

The two groups began bicoastal dating using Instagram hashtags to connect, which sparked the idea of ​​forming an online community that could expand Silent Book Club’s geographic reach even further. They launched a website as well as a Facebook group, and new chapters continued to appear regularly for years.

“Social media and word of mouth were the main drivers for new chapters until 2019 when we were featured in Oprah Magazine and NPR and there was a worldwide explosion of new chapters,” de la Mare explained. .

The format of a Silent Book Club meeting is simple: the group chooses a time and place, and everyone brings a book of their choice to read. For the first half hour, people order drinks, share what they read, and settle in. Then it’s an hour of quiet, uninterrupted reading.

After the hour is up, people are welcome to start chatting again – or continue reading if they wish. Informally, they call it “Introvert Happy Hour”.

“It provides space for people who want to get out of the house and hang out with nice people, but don’t want to go through all that awkward little chat,” de la Mare said. “You have a book in your hand, so it’s very easy to talk about what you’re reading. And when you get to that point where you have nothing else to say, it’s completely socially acceptable to go back to reading.

Having recently started a book club myself, I wondered what the secret was to a lasting gathering of book knowledge. According to de la Mare, it’s flexibility and inclusiveness. Oh, and the wine doesn’t hurt.

“It’s the easiest book club you can be a member of,” she said.

QSF&F, another book club in San Francisco, has survived many more years than your average book club thanks to another strategy: recruiting members who share a common and very specific taste in books. This queer sci-fi and fantasy club, which originally started as a young gay man’s ploy to find a boyfriend with similar interests, has been meeting at Borderlands Books for 20 years now.

“Sometimes people don’t want to attend because it’s silly or cheesy. We just don’t care. We wholeheartedly embrace it,” said John Goldie, one of QSF&F’s executives.

For him, the key to a successful book club is to choose as narrow a topic as possible while still having a sufficient number of books to choose from. They also stay relatively drama-free by bonding with their unapologetic obsession with sci-fi.

In the case of Silent Book Club, you don’t have to share the same tastes as your neighbor, but you can still partake in that same sense of community that a book club provides.

“Every time we start reading, there’s a moment of unease – you’re like, ‘Am I doing this right? And then people kind of settle there,” de la Mare said. “It’s almost this inaudible hum. People will just go into their books, and that stillness sets in.

The San Francisco Chapter of the Silent Book Club meets on the second Sunday of each month on Zoom.

The QSF&F appears to be temporarily suspended during the pandemic.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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