Silent Reading Parties, the Ultimate Anti-Social Social Events, Arrive in San Francisco

Silent Reading Parties
San Francisco gets its first Silent Reading Party series, where attendees can be alone with their books together. Miguel Vidal/Reuters

Let's admit it: Most parties are disappointments, inevitably inferior to expectations. Not so Tuesday night in San Francisco, where the affair was precisely what I had hoped it would be: a 90-minute exercise in silent reading. I met nobody, spoke to nobody, engaged in no small talk, told no jokes and endured none, asked nobody about the Wisconsin primaries—as a matter of fact, forgot about politics for a blissful evening. I read my book, had a couple of drinks and snacks, then left, thoroughly satisfied with the brief interlude of communal solitude.

This was not an ordinary soirée, as you may have already divined. The inaugural San Francisco Silent Reading Party, held at the Hotel Rex on Tuesday night, is an idea imported from Seattle, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The premise is simple and beautiful. You come to read, drink and eat. You do not talk, chat or network. You do not text. You just turn the pages, and then you go home.

The event was hosted by Oakland magazine publisher Dan Stone and Daniel Handler (you know him better as Lemony Snicket), who played somber piano music throughout the evening. A portion of the proceeds from the food and drink were to be donated to the Tenderloin Community School Library. But this was not a strip club—nobody was going to prod you if you simply wanted to enjoy your book without plunking down $11 for a Manhattan. This was a time for placid entertainments, not frenetic ones.

I arrived early, to a room already full. The chairs were uncomfortable, but the drinks were strong, so I guess pleasure balanced out pain. Most everyone read a real book, the kind that does not involve a screen. I saw Patti Smith's autobiography, as well as A.O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism. I brought true crime. In keeping with the rules, nobody spoke. Those who texted did so discreetly.

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The entrance to the Silent Reading Party. Alexander Nazaryan for Newsweek

It is telling that the Silent Reading Party, which will be a monthly affair, has come to San Francisco, a city whose high-culture benchmark is reading through at least three Yelp reviews before ordering a burrito. Bookstores are closing, and the enchantingly weird people are leaving, replaced by hacker spaces and anti-social coders who may never be the next Mark Zuckerberg but at least wear the same brand of hoodie.

Silent reading is not going to save Western civilization, but it might make for a thrillingly analog evening, free of all distraction but the piano, which is distraction as edification. Simply turning off your phone is becoming a brave act. Reading a physical book is becoming a revolutionary one. Beneath the paving stones, the printed page.