This is what it looks like at a silent-reading party on Zoom.
This is what the first one looked like. Can you find all the writers and boldface names in this tiny portion of the grid? Screenshot by Christopher Frizzelle; Gertrude Stein by Fotosearch/Getty Images

The first worldwide silent-reading party was such a huge success that we're making it weekly. Every Wednesday at 6 pm we're going to throw these parties, at least until stay-at-home is over.

(Quick—grab your ticket for the next one!!)

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Attendees at the first Zoom silent-reading party included famous actors, writers, composers, artists, families, teenagers doing their homework, people staring into space listening to the music because it was just so beautiful, cats, and even one household on Orcas Island that was eating dinner and decided to broadcast the reading party as their background music. (What a brilliant idea!)

It wasn't just a great party to be at. Behind the scenes, this was a roaring success as well. The Stranger brought in revenue from the reading party for the first time ever, our musician Paul Matthew Moore made ten times more on Venmo tips than he's ever made in the tip jar at the Sorrento (thank you for your generosity—he deserves it!), and hundreds of people at the party have written us emails, clamoring for more. Here's a small sampling of what they said:

This crazy, unprecedented time of staying home has reduced many of us to a world of being alone. But tonight and being together—connected in the community of reading—was nothing short of a miracle. I was so stupid excited to join the reading this evening and was surprised when I felt a tear slip down my cheek when it ended.

Please, please, please….keep this going!

Your wish is our command.

Also, you're not alone with those tears:

Thank you so much for the wonderful virtual silent reading! I had always wanted to go to the event in-person when visiting friends in Seattle, but the stars never aligned—until now, of all strange times.

I spend about half the year working at sea, isolated from loved ones and normal life events, so sheltering in place has honestly not been as challenging for me. But this silent reading really got me right in the feels, and I found myself tearing up at this temporary slice of what life used to be like. An opportunity to connect with many friendly and curious humans in a way that we won’t be able to in person for many more months felt like a ray of sunshine and possibility.

Paul’s music was pure magic, and I found myself being able to put away the phone and relax for a whole two hours—so rare in these times where our phone is often our only connection outwards.

We're so glad to have you at this party! Agreed about Paul's magic.

I’ve now participated in a bunch of these New World social events, and this one was one of the sweetest and nimblest uses of the form. It was just lovely to see so many good human faces; many fondly familiar, many excitingly new, all subtly checking each other out with guileless smirks between flipped pages. Felt a little like a vision or whiff of life after this calamity. I finished reading my novella just as Paul was winding down—it was a poetic sensory mashup I’ll never forget.

I love when the music ends right as a chapter I'm reading ends—such a happy synchronicity.

What a great experience. It was one of the most relaxing times since things "changed" with Covid-19. It was a little strange at first but then the music just took me away and I was able to read and time just sped by. Thank you very much for this great opportunity. I hope that it happens again—have wanted to do the in person event but I am not able to get downtown early enough.

Yeah, it is strange at first—there's nothing else like this anywhere.

I just want to thank you for the remote Silent Reading Party last night. My daughter and I participated and absolutely loved it—a welcome respite in these perilous times. The piano player, Paul Matthew Moore, is just wonderful. We vote for every Wednesday night! I know many who would take part.

You got it.

I loved the event! I was too fascinated by watching people read (did you notice the couple where the guy was eating all the snacks!? and the woman was like yeah whatever, I got my gin and my cat), and the piano was just gorgeous. Toward the end, I couldn’t help but notice Christopher. He was so engaged and obviously not reading a book and preoccupied with other events. Then of course he announces himself as the host.

Hahahaha. Busted!

Next time I should probably put my phone on airplane mode. People were texting me about the party at the party! How could I not look?

Here's the thing: You can do anything you want at the reading party. For some people, it's just nice to be at a party again (especially one where small talk is literally impossible). You're on mute, so it's not like you're going to disturb people if you decide not to focus on a book.

As for that friend of mine on Orcas Island who had the reading party on during dinner, I asked him how that went and he said:

We endeavored to recreate the Sorrento from afar, in our dining room a hundred miles away. We drank, we read, ate dinner with mom by candlelight and soaked up the atmosphere, especially the piano. Unexpectedly—and quite delightfully—we saw friends from other parts of life also reading silently. This spurred spontaneous conversations as the night wore on. Altogether the most salubrious use of Zoom I've yet encountered.

OK, one more email from the mail bin—there are so many others to choose from:

Loved the virtual Silent Reading Parry tonight. It would be the highlight of my lil quarantine life if the parties happened weekly, or every other week, or whatever is possible. They’ve always given me a special place to feel connected to my community while also comfortable as an introvert. Having that space in such a dark time would be really helpful for me and many others, I’m sure.

How could we say no to that?

Support The Stranger

Get your ticket to the April 22 party here.

We're going to keep doing admission on a sliding scale, because we want this to be accessible to everyone. If you can only pay $5, pay $5. If you can afford to pay $20, pay $20. We give a cut of that to Paul, and the rest of those funds go toward keeping this party going and making sure The Stranger can keep doing one-of-a-kind projects like this.

If you're curious about the grid at the top of this post: Mark Wunderlich is in the second row, first column; Heather McHugh is in the second row, second column; Linda Derschang is in the second row, third column; Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are in the third row, first column; Ryan Molden is in the fourth row, second column; Chris Jeffries is in the fourth row, third column. The Stranger's distribution director Kevin Shurtluff is in the top row, middle column, on the right. The most famous person at the party, Julia Sweeney, is not pictured, but you can see her here—directly below Paul's hands as he plays piano. Only one of these Zoom cells has been Photoshopped.