Spark

Join this video conference so you can read silently with others

Njeri Damali Sojourner Campbell has a YouTube channel and a Facebook group where she focuses on Afrofuturist fiction. But when the pandemic hit and so many of us were suddenly alone in our homes, she decided to start Quarantined Pages, a daily silent reading group.
During Quarantined Pages, people read together in silence while connected over video conferencing software. ( Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock)
Listen to the full episode53:59

Unlike most Zoom calls, no one talks during a Quarantined Pages meeting.

Instead, if you join this video conference, you will see a group of people silently reading together for an hour. 

Njeri Damali Sojourner-Campbell started these daily video conferences as a way of connecting with people over a shared passion for reading during the widespread stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. 

"It's a natural marriage: the social media platforms we use and what I thought was the solitary act of reading," she said.

Sojourner-Campbell created the silent reading group as "a quiet space for book lovers to come together." (Submitted)

Sojourner-Campbell's involvement in the online literary community started before the pandemic: she runs a Facebook group and a YouTube channel dedicated to discussions and reviews of Afrofuturist fiction. The channel, ONYX Pages, is part of BookTube, what Sojourner-Campbell calls a "magical corner" of the platform with channels and videos dedicated to books and reading.

Quarantined Pages is not limited to BookTubers — anyone can join, Sojourner-Campbell said. She explained what the silent reading group entails and the inspiration behind it to Spark host Nora Young. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

So why did you want to start Quarantined Pages?

I found that very early on in the quarantine, it was very difficult for me to read, because my mind was spinning, I was so concerned about COVID-19. And I knew that a lot of content creators I was friends with were similarly having difficulties reading and concentrating because they were worried about what was happening in the world. I thought it would be helpful to create some quiet space for book lovers to come together to honor that we were all going through something similar, and to be connected through things that we love to do, like read and talk about books. 

What happens in a typical silent reading session?

We'll log on to the Zoom platform, we'll say hi, we'll catch up on our weeks, but as soon as the hour starts, then we shut off the mics, some people will turn their cameras off and we'll read for a full hour.

Once the hour is up, the host will turn the mics on and we do a bit of a round-robin, so that each of us can talk about what we've read in the last hour. Sometimes people will share personal life updates, and then we end the session. 

In the past week, we've invited authors to join us. So we've had some great people come and talk about books they're debuting now or books coming out in the future. That's been an added bonus. 

Can anyone join or is it for people who follow BookTubers? 

Anyone can join. It's completely open, we've had people from a variety of ages, gender identities, stages of reading. We have a person in a long-term care home who's just looking for some company as well. So we've been very open, and we don't have a lot of rules, because you're not really saying much. Once we get rid of people who we're pretty sure are trolls, you can read in good faith with us. 

Sojourner-Campbell runs a YouTube channel dedicated to Afrofuturist books. (Shutterstock)

So beyond this silent reading video conferencing, you also use Facebook and YouTube to connect to fellow readers. Why do you think that social dimension — and, in particular, using social technology — is important in reading, which we often think of as a solitary activity?

I think that's exactly why it's important. In speaking to authors, especially authors in the science fiction and fantasy world, those who tend to write speculative fiction, when you hear them talking about why they write, they're writing because they either want to be a part of the conversation about the future, they want to influence change, they want to shed light on an important issue — and they want to do that in conversation with people. 

And so once they spend three years trying to birth an idea, they're ready to talk. BookTubers are often ready to talk back. And I find that content creation using social media provides an opportunity for those of us who are sitting in our reading nooks and screaming or laughing or shivering because of something that we've read, we really want to connect on that emotional level about what we're reading. And booktubing really helps us to do that. I'm actually quite surprised by how collective reading is. 

I came across Quarantined Pages in an article in The Guardian on silent Zoom video meetups, which is apparently a trend now! Any thoughts on why that might be emerging beyond reading together, as opposed to talking over video?

I think a lot of us are really speechless. If I allow myself to really think about the widespread, and in some ways, permanent impact of COVID-19 — not only in terms of health, but also in terms of how we view each other, whether we trust the person walking next to us on the street, what we think education is going to look like, what employment means, what permanence, safety and security mean — all of those things at the same time can be overwhelming. Also, when faced with the prospect of having to socially distance for who knows how long, and be alone, or just with one person, or be connected with somebody through only a screen, we need to think about what it means to just be quiet, and whether quiet can also mean safe. 

I do think in a lot of ways these silent meetups — reading together, journaling together, doing your chores together - it's a social experiment in whether we can survive with a different kind of connection.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Njeri Damali Sojourner-Campbell, click the 'listen' button at the top of the page.

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