On Sunday, March 16, 30 people met for a party at Muchmore’s, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Only when they arrived, they didn’t talk, cheer, or yell at a basketball game on television. Instead, each person nestled into a chair, opened a book, and read.
There was also wine, and live music by a talented harpist. That was it.
Yet, in effect, New York City’s first Silent Reading Party was a special combination of all the things book-lovers enjoy. It had the guiltless charm of a quiet night alone, in addition to all the food, drink, and friendly companionship of a night out. Of course, there were some awkward moments, too. For the first 20 or so minutes, everyone participated in a mutual staring contest to see if people would really sit down, together but apart, and read for two hours without talking. But shortly after this phase, everyone fell into their pages, and the night was altogether a success.
“I really liked it,” said reader Joseph Frazier after the two hours of silence ended. “It was a different environment than most events I had been to, but I thought it turned out well.”
Jamie Burns, who organized the event, sat by the front door with a sign that read, “Event Organizer—Ask Me Anything,” so as not to interrupt the experience. Not aloud, after all, meansnot allowed.
Pulled aside, she explained how she was inspired by Christopher Frizzelle, the editor of Seattle newspaper The Stranger. “He organizes silent reading parties there,” she explains. “It seemed like an event I would want to go to, and there wasn’t a similar one that existed [in New York], so I decided to organize one.”
But why a have a silent party with other people? Why not just read quietly in a bedroom? Burns explains that her motivation was twofold: “I often wished I could marry my social life with my desire to keep reading whatever I’m reading. If it weren’t weird, I would just invite friends over to just read and drink at my house, but that never really happens.” A silent reading party is a way to have the best of both worlds—friends, and the hobby that unites them. “It removes all of the pressure of a regular party and encourages non-verbal socializing.”
The second reason is practical: In the same way being in a gym full of athletes can motivate a person to push through a workout, being in a room filled with readers can motivate someone to open a book that has been put off for a while.
“It seems like sometimes you need an extra nudge to actually sit and read,” Burns says. “Somehow making it an event and a date on your calendar makes it easier to get into it.”
Other attendants agreed. Gabriella Acero went because she wanted to get her out of the house. Plus, she adds, “the harp intrigued me a little bit.” But then she found the group’s presence offered a certain “energy” that made the reading an original experience—something fundamentally different than if she were alone.
Acero believes it was because The Silent Reading Party forced people to embrace silence in a crowded atmosphere, which is something that normally never happens. “People get really uncomfortable in silence and in being alone,” she says. “But I really like it. I don’t think there’s enough silence especially in a city like New York, and especially for our generation.”
As for future events, Burns already has another night scheduled for April, also at Muchmore’s. Plus she’s considering other venues for down the road. “I had initially had the idea that it would be sort of a destination, and it would be somewhere fancy that you otherwise wouldn’t go.” She explains that the Seattle Silent Reading Parties, hosted by Frizzelle, are held in fancy fireside hotel rooms. Burns hopes to recreate an equivalent event, one with an air of prestige, even if it’s all for fun.