Do you hear that? Of course not. It's a Silent Book Club meeting somewhere in the world. I wish I was there.
Why have I been thinking about Silent Book Club? Blame Pearl's Books, Fayetteville, Ark. When I was preparing for last Friday's column about, among other things, National Read a Book Day, I spotted a Facebook post from the bookseller:
|Silent Book Club at Pearl's
"How did we celebrate National Read a Book Day? At Silent Book Club, of course! A big thank you to everyone who joined us--we'll be here til 8 p.m., so there's still time to grab your current read, or whatever's on the top of your TBR stack, and stop by."
I live a pretty quiet life, both personally and professionally. Based upon years of unscientific observation, I also know our business has a substantial number of people who could be described--and would probably describe themselves--as "quiet." So would many of their customers. A lifetime spent reading books can do that, but the concept of Silent Book Club is next level. I've never attended one, but even the notices I happen upon draw me toward the quiet space on offer:
Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore, Middletown, Conn.: "Do you love to read, love to meet other book-loving people, and love free coffee? Join us at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Silent Book Club! This book club is BYOB--Bring Your Own Book. Every kind of reader is welcome and there are no book requirements. Enjoy an hour of companionable silence and reading, with mingling before and/or after the reading period. Ssshhhh!!"
Wardah Books, Singapore: "The Silent Book Club is a commitment to devote an hour on Sunday morning to silent reading. There is a small social element; readers are encouraged to introduce themselves and share what they are reading at the start of the session, but you can choose to remain silent. All books and readers are welcome. Please bring your own book."
Adobe Books & Arts Co-op, San Francisco, Calif.: "Silent Book Club @ Adobe Books is a chance for people who love books to be in community. Bring whatever book you are reading and join us. Grab a spot on our comfy couches or in a quiet nook. We start at 5:30 with some brief intros/announcements and share the names of the titles we are reading. And then we quietly read in each other's company for about an hour."
|Silent Book Club founders Laura Gluhanich and Guinevere de la Mare on a pilgrimage to Talk Story Bookstore in Kauai, Hawaaii, "the westernmost bookstore in the U.S."
I love the mystery, perhaps even the fantasy, of a silent book club. The concept stuck with me this week, enhanced as well by something that happened just before Tuesday's UEFA Champions League soccer match between Liverpool and the Dutch team Ajax. I had the game on while working, and heard the PA announcer at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium call for a moment of silence to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
As might be expected, soccer fans are rubbish at being silent. So I wondered how this quite reasonable request would be handled. After all, this is Anfield, where they've been booing the national anthem for almost half a century. Asking more than 50,000 fans to keep their mouths shut for a few seconds? Best of luck with that. Miraculously, however, a very brief moment of silence was achieved, if punctuated with isolated, probably obscene, shouts that were countered by a wave of mass shushing worthy of a typecast librarians' convention.
Requesting a moment of relative quiet might have had a better chance of success. Having spent much of my life in a "quiet car" state of mind (and yes, passenger train quiet cars can often be noisier than Anfield's moment of silence), I do know that silence is a grail.
One of my favorite novels about quiet is Irish author Rónán Hession's Leonard and Hungry Paul (Melville House), which explores the close friendship between two gentle men in their 30s living deceptively "ordinary" lives ("Their conversations combined the yin of Leonard's love of facts with the yang of Hungry Paul's chaotic curiosity.") in a manner that is alternately funny, heartwrenching, smart and, well, inspiring... in a quiet way, naturally.
Are they misfits, or is the rest of the world just out of step? I'd say the latter, but I'm prejudiced. "The two friends then settled into one of the long pauses that characterized their comfort in each other's company," Hession writes. "They could sit quietly for extended periods without the need to hurry back to whatever it was they were doing, allowing the silence to melt away in its own time."
When I consider the Silent Book Club concept, I picture Leonard and Hungry Paul. Not just their connection to one another, but perhaps even more to the place where this novel gently guides its readers. That the word quiet weaves through the story like a soft gold thread, holding the seams in place, is no coincidence ("there was something special about the way that quiet people just seemed to find each other in life").
The final chapter of Leonard and Hungry Paul is titled "Quiet Club" for reasons I highly recommend you read the book to discover. "Leonard was of course in attendance and had been happy to help out," Hession writes. "It had been his idea to have tea and biscuits afterwards, taking it a step further by asking in the shop for the quietest biscuits they had, which were Jaffa Cakes obviously." Can I go to the next Quiet Club meeting, please? --Robert Gray