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It’s a rainy winter’s day in Oxford and we’re nestled inside a cosy pub. An old record player hums holiday tunes. Clinking glasses and sparkly tinsel catch the ambient light. Decked out in fairisle knits, with their heads deep in novels, are Silent Book Club. They’ve created a space for reading alone while being together. We’ve sat down for a chat on introversion, book recommendations and community. And to, of course, break the silence.
From left to right: Alexa, Helena, James, Vicky, Karen, Hugo
Vicky (co-host): I found out about it online. I love reading, I've been a part of lots of different book clubs in my life and the idea of this one really stayed with me. Sometimes, our lives get busy and it can be hard to dedicate time just to read.
James (co-host): Vicky sent me the Instagram page for the club and said, “oh, do you want to go to this?” And I did! And when the owner couldn’t run it anymore, we took it on. There’s absolutely no judgement here. You’re bringing your own book, there’s no set book, and you’re sharing your own interests. So many book clubs are quite prescriptive and it can feel like you’re getting homework. But not here.
Vicky: Absolutely. Here, you come along, chat and then read your own book silently for an hour. Whatever you want to read. You’re alone, but together.
Vicky: It's so nice to see that there's people who still really love to read.
Karen: And everyone is just so friendly. Before this, the only person I knew who loved books as much as I did was my stepdaughter, who lives 200 miles away.
Hugo: There’s definitely a strong sense of belonging at the club. I came to the UK when I was 27 and even though I’m a sociable person, I really struggled with getting to know people. Here everyone’s incredibly welcoming. Even if you're not socialising or chatting all the time, it feels incredibly social.
Karen: Since moving to Oxford, I've been to a lot of different clubs. And I've never felt quite at home as quickly as I did here. I’m quite introverted, so it would normally take me weeks to get to this level of chatty! It felt very easy from the start.
James: Lots of people are really into their alone time, but there’s not a lot of ways to actually do that whilst being around others. This club has definitely brought a lot of people out of their shell.
Alexa: Yeah, there’s no pressure here. No unnecessary exercises or introductions or anything. You can just sit down and do your own thing. And have the best conversations with complete strangers. It’s fantastic.
James: I think people should see introversion as energy management, rather than as being rude, or unkind. It’s not a negative thing at all.
Helena: Everybody navigates social situations differently. You have to give people the chance to express who they are.
Alexa: I was once reading in my room and listening to the Studio Ghibli soundtrack on full blast. At some point, the fire alarm went off. I didn’t catch it. People were frantically running around the house and asking me how I didn’t hear anything. I guess I was too busy romanticising life.
Karen: Yes, absolutely! If a book’s got a beautiful cover, I’ll pick it up. The last book I bought was just because of how nice the artwork on the cover was. And it turned out to be my favourite book of the year.
Alexa: Oh, yes. If I don’t like the font of a book, I won't buy it.
Hugo: Can you imagine reading 300 pages of Times New Roman?
Vicky: No, it's the worst. It’s not going to work.
Alexa: There’s a Romanian book I've read about seven times, called Elevul Dima Dintr-a Saptea, which loosely translates to ‘Dima the Student from 7th Grade.’ It's a coming-of-age tale set during the war and it always reminds me of reading it as I was growing up. It’s refreshing seeing a well-written male perspective. A really insightful read.
Vicky: The Book Thief is one of my favourite books. I've read it quite a few times and love the descriptions and perspective of the world and its colours. Really beautiful.
Helena: Mine is a book I read this summer. Notes on Heartbreak by Annie Lord. It’s a really honest depiction of heartbreak as a young woman. Very relatable and quite brave to put out there.
Hugo: Reading (and watching) Naruto was very emotional for me. It made me cry! It’s a bit like my current read, The Good Life. Which is a testament to how important relationships are in our lives. We’re not born to be alone. Even if it’s just a ‘good morning’ to the bus driver, it makes a difference. It all makes life better.