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At Silent Book Club at the Chicago bar Dorothy, readers settle in for a literary night. Attendees include some established groups, such as the Expand the Classroom book swap community (pictured at left).

At Silent Book Club at the Chicago bar Dorothy, readers settle in for a literary night. Attendees include some established groups, such as the Expand the Classroom book swap community.

Photos by Bernie Julia / Expand the Classroom

A night out at Silent Book Club, where everyone’s a bibliophile

On a recent cold Sunday night, the Ukrainian Village basement bar Dorothy is at capacity. Every seat is full. There are two lines snaking out from the bar. Cocktail shakers are shaking, and music is playing.

But folks are not here to party. While it’s packed, the people are here to read. Almost every person inside the ‘70s-themed lesbian cocktail lounge has a nose in a book, reading quietly, because it’s Silent Book Club night at Dorothy.

On the second Sunday of each month, the bar turns up the lights and turns down the music, shifting from hip hangout to hip bookish hangout, which is basically an introvert’s dream.



The next Silent Book Club is Feb. 11.

The next Silent Book Club at Dorothy is Feb. 11. Several other chapters hold meet-ups in the Chicago area.

Anna Bauman

The bar’s Silent Book Club has its own curator, Charlie Schumann.

“I like people,” said Schumann. “But sometimes I’m, like, I don’t really have anything to say to you. I just want to read my little book. But you want to read your little book, too. So now we can just do it next to each other.”

Unlike a traditional book club, you don’t have to read the same book. That means no deadlines, no obligations to come up with something smart to say, no need to prepare a snack to share, no need to talk to anyone at all.

“Everybody comes and they bring their own book,” said Schumann. “It’s also a way to meet people who like to read, and specifically here at Dorothy’s, queer people who like to read and typically like to read queer books and queer literature.”

In this space, you get to be surrounded by people who love books as much as you do. And clubs like this are popping up everywhere. According to the Silent Book Club website, there are more than 500 chapters in 50 countries.

“It’s low pressure and I like that,” Schumann said. They particularly love being around people alone in public. “I feel like I really benefit from that. It just feels better to me to be doing it with other people.”



Readers get creative when there are more Book Club attendees than there are chairs.

Readers get creative when there are more Book Club attendees than there are chairs.

Photos by (left) Anna Bauman/WBEZ and (right) Bernie Julia / Expand the Classroom

So how annoyed are people about talking? It’s not so strict, Schumann said. “People come in and they read, but also people talk to each other about what they’re reading.”

We asked a few people what they were reading. Kayla, who did not give a last name, brought Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun. “I’m here with my girlfriend and we’re just gonna get drinks and read books together.”

Bernie Julia, who meets her own book exchange group at Dorothy’s monthly event, brought a copy of Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami. Another reader had just cracked open Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl.

Dorothy co-owner Whitney LaMora said there are often more readers than chairs. The bar has a 120 capacity, but it doesn’t have 120 seats. She’s seen people camp out in the photo booth and read. “Until someone needs to take a photo, why not? It’s a chair.”

LaMora said most Sundays at Dorothy are pretty quiet. But on Silent Book Club days (the next is Feb. 11), there’s often a line out the door. Thankfully, to no one’s surprise, readers make excellent customers. And the bartenders notice.

“The vibes are definitely cozier and we actually have like kind of a joke that they’re like the nicest of all the people,” said bartender Caitria Mikesell.

“You come in, nobody’s gonna bother you,” LaMora said. “Read what you want, stay as long as you want. Talk to whoever or don’t. That’s fine with us.”

If you go: The next Silent Book Club at Dorothy (2500 W. Chicago Ave.) is Feb. 11. Here is a list of other chapters and meetings in the Chicago area.

Greta Johnsen hosts and produces WBEZ’s Nerdette podcast, which Anna Bauman produces.

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