“The insane thing about a party where you’re not supposed to make small talk is that it makes you want to make small talk. You almost can’t not do it. (But what a relief to not have to!)” — Christopher Frizzelle
What appears to have begun in Seattle, land of rain, coffee and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, has now migrated to New York: groups of people having a night out on the town…to read. They’re called Silent Reading Parties and they’re pretty well exactly what they sound like — strangers, and sometimes friends or couples, sitting together for an evening of communal, individual, reading. It’s an idea I’ve never considered before, but one that definitely excites me.
I’ve never been much of a “night on the town” type (a recent personality test revealed, unsurprisingly, that I’m high on the introversion scale) and I’ve never been great at striking up conversations with strangers. The one exception, however, has always been when I discover someone likes the same books that I do.
I’m also the type of person who reads anywhere and everywhere (which sometimes leads to good natured teasing when more sociable friends spot me out having a lunch date with literature), so reading in a pub or bar feels natural. I imagine the Silent Reading Party setting would provide both an extension of my normal routine, and the opportunity to, as Chritopher Frizzelle’s quote notes above, engage in hushed small talk with people who are reading books I’ve loved (or who spot me reading a book they’ve loved).
I also like the wider social implications of Silent Reading Parties – the sense that we can share space with each other (in non-public transport settings) without the need to fill the air with talk or performance. I like that the concept promotes reading in public, non-library settings and, more specifically, that it suggests going to a public place with the express intention of reading quietly is a cool way to spend an evening. I also like the idea of many people’s minds engaging with the written word in the same place at the same time. There must be an energy created by such an act — not an energy that can be seen as it develops, but one that can be felt. Felt in the same way we feel our thoughts coalesce, in the way we feel silences move from light to heavy, in the way a few sentences, paragraphs and pages become the lives of others, lives that we, as readers, can also experience.