Silent Reading Parties?

Silent reading partyI always enjoy checking out the articles at BookriotIt’s a younger crowd that are often interested in different books than I usually read, but they love reading and always are coming up with interesting ideas for readers or to encourage reading.

Recently, they ran an article on hosting silent reading parties. That sounded like an interesting idea. I notice that we often read alone, but not alone–for example, in a local Starbucks, or even the cafe’ of a local bookstore. And, if you can avoid the person who insists on talking loudly on their cell phone with a business client, or the conversation where someone is going through the excruciating details of a relationship breakup, it can be a good place to be around people, yet read.

Silent reading parties take this a step further. The idea is simply to find a comfortable place to gather a bunch of people for the express purpose of reading — silently. The location featured in the article is a brew pub in an old house with a parlor.

The article talks about friendly but clear ways to enforce quiet, such as business cards with “Shh!” printed on them to be handed to those who can’t resist being chatty. It suggests a maximum of two hours, letting people know when the time is up. Some non-distracting background music can be helpful to make it less awkward to be silent with others.

The fascinating thing to me was that many people really enjoyed being silent with others and having a break from “high-contact socializing.” It is also interesting to me that there is not necessarily a discussion of what people read afterwards, although I suspect some do this. How exceedingly rare it is to be silent with others around! I’ve been in some retreat settings where this has been so. The writer commented that this is almost “church-like.” I sighed because I find it is rare to sit silently in church without someone feeling they need to break the silence.

I wonder if this is a dimension of life we overlook, that these silent reading parties are re-discovering. We need silence, but this doesn’t always mean solitude. Sometimes we find great comfort in silence in the company of others. Whether it is communing with a book, our own thoughts, or God, we find it strangely comforting to do this at times without words with others who can share that silent communion.

Reading Books We Don’t Like?

True confessions time. I get some of my blogging ideas from the good folks over at Bookriot who host some of the most interesting conversations about reading for the general reading public. Today they posted an article on “The Benefits of Reading a Book You Don’t Like.”

The article talked about exploring what it is that makes us uncomfortable and what we find that is not working for us in books we don’t like rather than simply dismissing them with “I don’t like that.” And it strikes me that such an exploration may reveal qualities both in the work and in ourselves and that these can enrich and enlarge our worlds even when this is uncomfortable.

Fate of AfricaI can’t say, for example, that I liked reading The Fate of Africa recently. It was a thoroughly depressing account of corrupt leadership in country after country, the devastation of AIDS and genocides, with occasional glimmers of hope. Yet I think we are woefully ignorant of the importance of this huge continent, the richness of its peoples and cultures, and how we cannot divorce the “fate” of Africa from our own.

SolitudeI did not enjoy Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of SolitudeFundamentally, the story is the chronicle of a truly dysfunctional family that would be rich material for a Dr. Phil show. I also have to say I’m not a fan of magical realism and both of these facts probably reveal something about me. But discussing this book on and offline revealed why others like it, the implicit critique of colonialism that runs through it, as well as the fact that families and sexuality can sometimes be just about as bizarre as they are portrayed here.

Jim CrowReading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow was just plain uncomfortable as a white man in a middle class suburb. Whether I agree with all of her analysis or not, I have to ask what is wrong with a culture that incarcerates a substantially greater portion of people from one minority ethnicity, even while the incidence of drug use may be as prevalent in my own suburb if only more cleverly hidden. And it was chilling to read about the erosion of our Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures that are integral to policing strategies in some communities.

The last kind of book I think of are books by those who do not agree with me. Reading books by writers like Daniel Dennett or E.O. Wilson, who are often quite critical of Christians help me understand the source of their animus, some of which might be justified even while i believe some is built on misconceptions of Christian belief. Likewise, reading authors from different theological persuasions and parts of the church is important, and even those of other faiths. It keeps me from caricaturing their beliefs and helps me understand why they might think differently.

Admittedly, a number of the books I read are those I think I’ll like. But sometimes it is the ones I don’t like that have left the most lasting impressions and force me to re-examine my own conceptions of the world. Reading the Bible actually falls in this category for me, which may be a surprise, but this is true because the Bible doesn’t sanitize human ugliness, it doesn’t portray a tame and domesticated God, and it makes uncomfortable ethical demands upon my life. It is a collection of books out of other times and cultures that sometimes can be difficult to understand and sometimes uncomfortable because I do understand it, which has been to my profound benefit.

I would be curious, how have you benefited from books you didn’t like, and what were these books?