IT ALL STARTED with my adorable nightmare of a baby, who almost never slept. There was no hope of relaxing at home; I had to remove myself from the house to get a break. I live in San Francisco, and two blocks down my street is a French restaurant called Bistro Central Parc. Four blocks down was my friend Laura Gluhanich. Occasionally, I would leave my husband with our son and flee—to the bistro, and Laura, to talk about books we were reading. Or rather, not reading. I was in a book club, and I’d bitch about my inability to finish the books. I’d been a reader all my life, and that part of my identity had been taken over by motherhood.
I told Laura, “I want a book club where there’s no assigned reading, and you don’t have to talk or be insightful, and you can just drink wine and quietly read.”
She said, “I love this idea. Let’s do it.”
So that year, 2012, we started a book club of two, meeting up every few weeks, bringing whatever book we wanted. We mentioned it to friends. “That sounds amazing,” they’d say. “Can I come?” We’d say, “Sure.” They’d bring friends, and their friends would bring friends, too. Soon we couldn’t fit in the bistro—we had to relocate to a bar with couches, and, later, the opulent lobby of the Palace Hotel. We called ourselves Silent Book Club (and, unofficially, Introvert Happy Hour). When one member moved to Brooklyn, she started a chapter there. We decided to encourage more people to start chapters, posting on Facebook and Meetup, and now there are SBCs all over. A London group meets in a park. One chapter is sober, so they gather in an ice cream shop. Another, in Ohio, meets only at fast food restaurants.
People sometimes ask me, “Why would I leave my house to read?” I say: Sometimes you want to share the same space with like-minded people, to be in the world but carving out time for you. And of course, it’s not totally silent. The first half hour of the two-hour meet-up, most people do talk about books. That can lead to a lot. I still run the San Francisco chapter at a bookstore in Haight-Ashbury, and one woman has been coming for years—first with her boyfriend, whom she then married, and now they’re expecting—and she’s become a good friend. Those connections are wonderful. Almost as wonderful as finding a way to make reading a nonnegotiable part of your life. ■