On a website I'd never heard of called The Trumpet, which is published by the Philadelphia Church of God and which "seeks to show how current events are fulfilling the biblically prophesied description of the prevailing state of affairs just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ," there's a piece up about the silent-reading party, an ongoing event I started at the Sorrento in 2009 modeled on something two coworkers and I used to do after work.
The Trumpet piece argues that the silent-reading party is a symbol of moral and intellectual decline, as well as a symbol of the left's desire to silence people.
They're correct in one respect. The party does want to silence people, but only the people who see you at a bar and say, "Why are you reading? Do you know you're in a bar? Don't you know what bars are for?"
The Trumpet writer read an article about the reading-party in Poets & Writers magazine, and repurposed its text to fit his theory of "a new religion sweeping across America." Hahahaha.
Imagine this scene. You walk into a popular trendy bar. It is not at all dark inside, but well lit. There is no loud music. It is actually very quiet. There are many customers, yet no one is talking. You begin to feel somewhat strange when you notice that everyone is reading a book. Of course, your mind races with questions. What is going on here? Reading a book in a bar? You can’t avoid staring. A closer look reveals that not everyone is reading the same book. Taking in the whole scene you notice that some people are exchanging notes, others are texting on cell phones. This is not an exercise to develop your imagination. It is a snapshot of reality.
Are you scared yet? Are you reaching for the Xanax? These parties are "strange," they are "very unusual," the author says. He writes:
Seriously, we should all be in favor of getting people off their electronic devices and into books. It is very important for people to get together and bond as a community. However, it is reasonable to ask, why silent book clubs? Why not discussion book clubs? Human conversation, lively discussion, even debate and disagreement, are the building blocks of community! Yet, a growing majority of people are less likely—even fearful—to discuss personal ideas, thoughts or opinions. What is happening? There has to be a cause for this effect.
The cause, he argues, is too many people reading Foucault in private universities. And political correctness.
I hate to break it to this guy, but I didn't go to a private university, and I've never read Foucault, and the lockstep sacrosanct ideologies of all sides of the political spectrum bug me. He then focuses on what he really wants to discuss—the culture of college campuses, which has nothing to do with the reading party. The actual "cause" of the reading parties is that I like to read, and my friends like to read, and sometimes reading is more satisfying than filling the room with hot air.
Why not discussion clubs? Because our culture is obsessed with discussion. CNN has turned "news" into nine people sitting along a glowing counter and offering an instant of personality, a take, a discussion about whatever just popped up on their social media feeds. Twitter and Facebook are refrigerators of opinion and accelerators of outrage. Slog is full of opinions too, in addition to reporting and jokes and illustrated police reports. Opinion and discussion and disagreement have its place, but some of us don't think we need more of that. Some of us need a break from the bombardment. Reading is not something the culture at large celebrates, so we celebrate it with a party.
But it's no surprise he's disturbed by a bunch of people reading different books, and not spending all their time filling the air with their thoughts about them, because that's not how Bible studies work.
(If you feel like sitting around and reading and maybe bringing about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ by doing so, the next silent-reading party is on Wednesday, July 5. Paul Moore will be on piano.)