Silent Book Clubs Are Here and Introvert-Friendly

It's a great time to be a reader. Several years ago, the words "book club" may have conjured a mental image of wine-soaked, charcuterie fueled in-person meetups at a friend's home. Now, book clubs take many forms, with options for nearly every type of reader — whether in-person or online, through a local library or bookstore, a community built by celebrities or #BookTok.

Even so, the traditional pressures and commitments that exist in any sort of group activity can, for many, turn book clubs into a chore.

Welcome to Silent Book Club, a book club that's based around a seemingly paradoxical idea: reading alone, together. Gone are the sometimes rambling, sometimes insightful discussions about tone or prose or themes. All that's required is showing up and reading a book of your choice — alone.

Crack open the latest Booker Prize winner, or mass market paperback, or your history textbook, or portal to any world you wish to escape to. This experience of reading alone together is growing more popular among readers because it provides a measure of accountability and chance to socialize and tailor the experience without the usual pressures.

Founded in 2012 by Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich, Silent Book Club started as a way for the two busy friends to fit reading for pleasure back into their packed schedules and also keep each other accountable. It was a small gathering amongst friends for about three years until 2016, when further flung acquaintances asked de la Mare about starting their own meetups. "People we knew started what we'd now call chapters, and that gave us the idea to put this out into the world and let everyone do it," she tells PS

Readers around the world are keen to partake. De la Mare says there are nearly 1,000 silent books clubs worldwide; after a lull during the pandemic when some chapters disbanded or stopped actively meeting, there's been "explosive growth" since last year (there were about 300 active clubs before, and 460 new chapters and counting have started this year).

On top of that, Silent Book Club receives about 20 requests per week to form new clubs. She credits it to a post-pandemic need for in-person connection and a desire to unplug and unwind from the constant grind of virtual connection.

"There's so much content and information available, and the way we consume that is constantly bouncing around and absorbing things in little snippets, so it really takes effort to shift gears in your brain back to focusing on one story at a time," de la Mare says.

This isn't to say that silent book clubs are in direct opposition to meetups that involve discussion. Rather, the goal is to make fitting reading into the schedule as seamless as possible by eliminating distractions, like nerves about socializing or the feeling of having homework. Silent book clubs aren't necessarily an enemy of traditional book clubs — in fact, de la Mare says many Silent Book Club participants use their time to catch up on reading for other book clubs.

According to de la Mare, a typical silent book club starts with some socializing and settling down before the organizer lets everyone know it's time to read (typically, for about an hour). But instead of that chatter continuing throughout, it stops before everyone picks up their own book of choice and dives in.

"Putting yourself in a room with a bunch of people who are doing the same thing is the extra peer pressure you need [to stay focused]," she explains. "It's a profound shift in stepping off the hamster wheel, and I feel like it's easier to put down the phone when everyone else around you is doing it, too." When this veil of sustained silent reading lifts, bookworms are free to stay and chat, or leave.

One of these chapters is run by Megan Sampson, a 35 year-old executive assistant in Easton, MA. Sampson had been on the hunt for a book club after a move, but she wasn't finding the right fit. "There was no homework associated with it, but the idea of coming up with something smart to say at a meeting didn't really resonate with me," she says.

That's when she saw a TikTok about Silent Book Club. The lack of pressure and performance — plus the promise of making new friends — drew her in. She filled out an online form to launch the chapter and contacted local watering hole Shovel Town Brewery before posting about the club on social media.

She didn't expect anyone to show up for the first meeting at a local brewery last September, but 37 people did, and she's been thrilled with the response and community she's since built. Now, about 137 readers participate in monthly meetups at three local businesses. In the time since, plenty of friendships and acquaintances have formed — even a few job offers, too. The spines that litter the brewery's long tables every meeting span genres; people read romances, thrillers, sci-fi, and even sheet music, in one instance.

"It's great to have this alone time together."

That flexibility and freedom to read whatever one wants also appealed to Ashley Mason, a 27 year-old marketing firm founder who lives in Middleborough, MA. Mason joined Sampson's chapter back in September. She'd been in book clubs before but was hesitant to regularly attend any because she's particular about what she reads and didn't feel drawn to all the assigned books. It was an added bonus that Mason could trade the nightmarish commute into Boston, where most local cultural happenings take place, for an easier 20-minute drive to Easton. "It's great to have this alone time together," Mason says, "and knowing you're around people who love to read is really great."

Silent Book Club is now a beloved ritual for Mason. Mason works from home, so getting out into the world and meeting other people is another reason to attend Silent Book Club. She's since recruited her longtime best friend, and they have a monthly routine that involves trying different restaurants for early dinner in Easton before going to Shovel Town together. The casual conversations between silent reading periods add to her day, and she's also found other people who run book accounts on Instagram.

The club provides a way for introverts to emerge from their shells in manageable ways. Lindsey Chastain, a 47 year-old founder and CEO who lives near Tulsa, OK, has attended Silent Book Club meetups at Magic City Books for about two years.

Chastain relishes the balance of independence and mingling. "I'm so much an introvert, and one of my main issues with book clubs is that people either haven't read the book or the conversation doesn't stay on the book, which is what I went there to do," she explains. "For the most part, [my chapter] is a bunch of people who don't really want to socialize but want to be social."

It's the combo of in-person meetings and silent time that keeps her coming back; it's a welcome escape from the responsibilities of running her own businesses, parenting four teenagers, and running a hobby farm, and it helps her carve out precious time for herself where nobody is asking her for anything. "I'm removing all of the obstacles to reading when I arrive at Silent Book Club so I can clear my mind of all these other things," she explains.

Being around other readers has helped Chastain glean lots of reading inspiration just from glancing at what others are reading, and she likes that she can then enjoy these books without any preconceived notions based on others' opinions shared in discussions. She also likes that this format eliminates any barriers or differences that can make conversations stumble — say, some people reading just for the plot or vibes while others are closely analyzing prose — so each reader can have the experience they want without judgment or disappointment.

Even though she didn't set out to meet others through the book club (she wouldn't be opposed, but doesn't have a lot of time to dedicate to news friends), Chastain has strengthened an important relationship through her participation in Silent Book Club: she and her 18 year-old son have attended meetups twice together and read the same book. "It's given us now some common ground to not just be mother and son, but also literary buddies and friends," she says.

Helen Carefoot is a freelance lifestyle, culture, and entertainment journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was Well+Good's Lifestyle Writer and worked at The Washington Post on the lifestyle desk in the features section.