Vicki Ziegler’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Vicki Ziegler’s Story

A year ago last summer, some of us neighbourhood acquaintances were chatting as we rolled up our mats after a pleasant, early morning yoga class in the local park with which we are all loosely associated as “friends of the park”. The subject was book clubs, and the somewhat wistful lament was that most conventional book clubs never seem to work out or last: participants don’t like the books selected or feel that certain participants dominate the selections and discussions, or it’s too much pressure to finish reading and prepare for rigorous questions and analysis at the meetings, or it’s not enough about the books and more of an excuse to just drink wine and gossip.

I had recently read an article about silent book clubs and suggested that concept might be worth a try. I can’t recall the original article, but it lead to a web site for a San Francisco-based pair of readers who originally championed the concept and have built a network of clubs that share their events here:

The basic premise was that a group of readers would get together in a public place, such as a coffee shop or bar, to read together quietly for an hour. That simple premise addressed so many of the complaints about book clubs … and some:

  • Readers bring to the meeting the books they’re currently reading. That means they’re reading something they want to read, not a title that has been assigned.
  • Readers who don’t necessarily know each other and/or are shy or new in town or whatever can still enjoy the company of other readers.
  • The time commitment is not onerous.
  • By assembling at a local business, no one is obliged to take on hosting duties.
  • Local businesses benefit from book club members purchasing refreshments, potentially spreading some good word of mouth and so on.

A few of us chatting after that yoga class agreed that the idea was worth a try, so we planned for a meeting in the fall. We agreed to assemble at a local coffee/book/record shop not far from the park. Four people attended that first meeting. From that modest beginning, we have assembled regularly every month at the same location and the group has grown steadily. Our meetings average between eight or nine to a dozen attendees. Most of the participants live within walking distance, but we have a regular stalwart who comes by subway from the city’s west end, we’ve had guests from Bangalore, India and Red Deer, Alberta and we’ve been contacted by someone who has just moved to our city from Boston.

Our group’s naturally evolved enhancement to the original silent reading premise is that before we start reading, we go around the table and everyone speaks about what they’ve read since the last meeting, what they plan to read during the upcoming hour, and anything else bookish they want to share. We’ve talked about Little Free Library boxes, we’ve shared information about upcoming author readings (a bunch of us from the group attended a Kate Atkinson event recently) and we’ve reminisced about favourite childhood books, among other related topics.

I think it’s safe to say the “what I’ve been reading” portion of the gathering is as much an attraction, if not more, than the hour of silent, focused reading (which, actually, is a rare commodity unto itself these days). What we share when we go around the table is both our enthusiasms and our disappointments with our current reading – constructive, useful and often elucidating. Many of our participants would attest to reading books outside their reading comfort zone on the basis of encouragement from the members of this small but mighty group. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese is a great example of a title that has made the rounds in our group due to the trust this group has fostered.

Not only does it feel like this group has made a difference in the lives of our neighbours and reading friends and benefited a local business, but that difference has spiralled out in wonderful ways. We promote each upcoming event and the venue on Facebook each month, so others can see it, consider it and be inspired by it. We’re also listed on the international calendar featured on the web site. After each meeting, we compile a list of all the books discussed at the meeting, we publish that as a blog post and distribute it on social media. (The blog posts and book lists are all collected here: Comments on the blog and responses on social media confirm that our silent book club is sparking interest outside our local community and inspiring a virtual community. Perhaps it will spawn gatherings in other neighbourhoods. Certainly, it is encouraging individual readers well outside our physical neighbourhood.

November 23, 2018

Post script by Jo: By December 2019 we have had to limit the number of participants to 15 for each meeting, and have scheduled 2 meetings/month to accommodate everyone!

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I have been posting these regularly for over a year. They run out in the next few weeks: if you have others to add, please send them to me!

About jofacilitator

On Sept 1, 2020, I celebrated 50 years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, facilitating meetings, groups, communities, and organizations, making it possible for ordinary people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. I retired on December 31, 2021, but still volunteer with the organization.
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