Toronto's Silent Book Club offers an alternative for introverted bookworms

Members of this monthly book club get together to read whatever they want silently in a neighbourhood coffee shop for an hour and participate in optional discussion.

‘We've got a pact; you have permission to read for an hour with no other interruptions,’ organizer says

Vicki Ziegler, the co-founder of Toronto's Silent Book Club, loves to read poetry and novels. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

Vicki Ziegler has never been on the same page with traditional book club members.

The stresses associated with meetings — hosting, finishing a book on time and sharing reviews on the chosen title with others — discouraged the Toronto bookworm from joining a club.

"It's a bit of a monoculture — everybody's reading the same book and talking about just one book," she told CBC Toronto.

In discussions with friends, Ziegler found she wasn't alone in feeling like she didn't fit into the standard book club format.

So when the east end resident learned about a meeting where readers of all kinds were invited to read any material they wanted in silence and engage in optional discussion, she thought it was a novel idea.

"I just love reading and I love reading with other people — no matter what they're reading — hanging out and quiet companionship," Ziegler said.

The Silent Book Club's Toronto chapter meets once a month at Press, a book shop that also sells coffee and vinyl records, on Danforth Avenue near Main Street. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich founded the first Silent Book Club in San Francisco in 2012. There are now more than 60 chapters across the world, including one in Toronto and one in Ajax-Pickering.

Ziegler co-organized the first Toronto meeting with Jo Nelson, a friend who was previously part of a book club where members often complained about the assigned reading, in October 2017.

'We've got a pact': Silent reading

Members sit around conjoined tables at a coffee shop, in the area of Danforth Avenue and Main Street, in a spot marked with a sign that reads, "Reserved for Book Club," on a Saturday morning every month and share what they brought to read before the silent reading hour.

"We've got a pact," Ziegler said. "You have permission to read for an hour, with no other interruptions."

So far, readers have brought upwards of 300 different books to the meetings.

There are no assigned books or genre guidelines for members of Toronto's Silent Book Club. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC )

The material ranged from Michelle Obama's autobiography Becoming to a translated copy of Nirliit, a French novel by Juliana Léveillé-Trudel on Saturday.

Since there isn't an assigned reading, Nelson said the reading material includes everything from science fiction to poetry. One time, she said, someone actually brought a car manual to flip through.

An introvert's happy hour

Kathy McCormick brought Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage to the meeting. The self-described introvert said she typically reads non-fiction, but she's become more open-minded through the book club.

Nelson said members often swap books and cheer each other to finish certain books or try new genres. "It's a book support club," the co-founder said, followed by a laugh.

There are Silent Book Club chapters in the United States, Italy and Japan. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

McCormick said she never would've felt comfortable in a traditional book club. 

"I really like the fact that you're not required to speak a lot if you don't want to," she said.

Not only has the Silent Book Club helped her find community, but McCormick said she has also started to read more because of it. "To have a silent place to read for a whole uninterrupted hour, you really get into the book you're reading and that encourages you to finish the book." 

A new chapter in the Junction

The book club, which is open to the public, has attracted as many as 15 readers at a time. Ziegler said readers have made the trek from as far as Oakville, Mississauga and Markham.

Vicki Ziegler publishes blog posts that list off every book brought to each meeting. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

High Park resident Betty Ann McKenzie came out to the March meeting to observe the Silent Book Club's format.

McKenzie said she plans to start her own chapter in the west end in the fall.

"I've found regular book clubs less useful and less interesting than the concept of the Silent Book Club, which I think is just amazing," McKenzie said.

"That's what readers want to do — read."