Brittany Gustavoson, of Garden City, reads a book at the...

Brittany Gustavoson, of Garden City, reads a book at the Silent Book Club gathering at Fire Island Vines in Bay Shore on Feb. 22. Credit: Morgan Campbell

It is so quiet in the wine bar, you can hear the page of a book turn.

And pages are turning.

At the monthly meeting of the Long Island chapter of the Silent Book Club, more than 60 people sit around long tables in Fire Island Vines in Bay Shore on a Thursday evening, each silently reading a different book.

Julie Varolian, 34, a part-time physical therapist and mother of two from Melville, started the local chapter of the nationwide group in August with a meeting at Tiny Raccoon Books in Sayville. Attendance has grown so quickly that, beginning in March, the group split into eight individual chapters that meet in Babylon, Bay Shore, Farmingdale, Huntington, Riverhead, Sayville, Stony Brook and Westhampton Beach. There's no official enrollment or membership fee, though chapters may ask for an RSVP from readers to make sure each venue will have enough space, Varolian says. 

Krista Fehrenbach, of West Islip, reads a book at the...

Krista Fehrenbach, of West Islip, reads a book at the Silent Book Club gathering at Fire Island Vines in Bay Shore Feb. 22. Credit: Morgan Campbell

In traditional book groups, members agree to read the same title and then meet to discuss it. The beauty of the Silent Book Club, members say, is that they can read whatever they want. And they can choose to talk to others about their book, or not.

“I don’t necessarily want to read a book that someone is telling me I have to read,” says Varolian, who at this meeting is reading “Love and Other Words,” a romantic novel by Christina Lauren.

BOOK CLUB IS ‘INTROVERT’S HAPPY HOUR’

The national founders like to say that a Silent Book Club meeting is an introvert’s happy hour, perfect for people who don’t want to go to bars, don’t want to attend parties and make small talk. “It makes it really easy to say, ‘What are you reading? What do you think about the book?’ ” says national co-founder Guinevere de la Mare, of Hawaii. “Nobody’s hitting on you, you don’t have to dress up, don’t have to spend a lot of money.”

Meetings are BYOB — Bring Your Own Book — hardcover, paperback, library book, audiobook or e-book. On Long Island, they typically start at 7 p.m., and for the first half hour people can socialize or order food or drinks. At 7:30, Varolian starts the hour of silent reading. At 8:30, like a proctor telling standardized test takers that it’s time to put their pencils down, Varolian announces that the silent hour is over. Then, there’s a half hour when readers can ask each other about what they’re reading and stack all the books to take a photograph.

Upcoming Silent Book Club group meetings

  • Huntington: 7 to 9 p.m. April 4, Six Harbors Brewing Company, 243 New York Ave. 
  • Riverhead: 7 to 9 p.m. April 4, A Book Place Boutique, 489 E. Main St.
  • Sayville: 7 to 9 p.m. April 4, Tiny Racoon Books, 277 Railroad Ave.
  • Bay Shore: April 10, 6 to 8 p.m., Fire Island Vines, 17 E. Main St.
  • Stony Brook: April 11, 7 to 9 p.m. at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket
  • Farmingdale: 7 to 9 p.m. April 25, Necromantic Brew Co., 253 Main St.
  • Babylon: April 25, time and location to be determined
  • Westhampton Beach: 6 to 8 p.m., April 30, Westhampton Beach Brewing Company, 220 Roger's Way

This is the first meeting for Jill Lehmann, 61, of Oakdale, who works in a boutique (reading “The Lincoln Highway,” by Amor Towles). She’s here along with her son, Alex, 28, an HVAC salesperson from Farmingdale (reading “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown) and Alex’s girlfriend, Jill Rocco, 28, a digital product manager from Farmingdale (reading “Iron Flame,” by Rebecca Yarros).

Books read at the Silent Book Club gathering are stacked at the end of the reading hour at Fire Island Vines in Bay Shore. Credit: Morgan Campbell

“Just being in a group of readers — it’s inspiring to see what other people enjoy,” the elder Lehmann says. “The hour that you get to spend in silent reading is great. If you’re in your home environment, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to clean.’ ”

Lehmann also likes that she’s discovering a new venue — she hadn’t been to Fire Island Vines before. The trio orders a chicken bacon ranch pizzette and Greek fries. It’s a win-win — business owner Angelo Crisci says he would not typically have 60-plus customers in the wine bar on a Thursday evening. His daughter, Angelia Crisci, 28, is working behind the bar. “I actually kind of wish I could do the book club right now, not gonna lie,” she says.

‘WE LIKE THE VIBE’

The Silent Book Club started as the creation of two friends — de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich — who hosted it for their buddies in a bar when they were living in San Francisco in 2012. In 2015 the duo launched a website because friends of friends began creating their own chapters in other cities. After NPR did a story on the organization in 2019, “it really blew up,” de la Mare says, growing to 300 chapters. The groups are entirely volunteer, she says.

The pandemic put a damper on growth, but in 2023 chapters started to “get their mojo back in terms of getting out of the house, seeing other people and learning how to socialize again,” de la Mare says. A group in West Seattle posted an Instagram reel that went viral and launched another influx of new chapters, she says.

“We thought it would just be a flash in the pan, but there’s just no sign of slowing down. We’re now up to more than 850 chapters,” says de la Mare, 47, who works as a writer for Google. There are chapters in all 50 states and in 47 countries, she says.

Joe and Megan Catalano, of Sound Beach, say they’ve found their people. “We tried all the couple meetup groups where you did stuff. The bowling. The ax throwing,” says Joe, 37, an accountant (reading Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories). “But we don’t like doing stuff. We like the vibe here better.”

Agrees Megan, 33, a label designer (reading “Fishbowl,” by Bradley Somer): “Much more chill.”

Books, Brunches and Booze

Want to join an open-to-anyone book group that does choose a specific book? The Long Island chapter of Books, Brunches and Booze offers monthly meetings that follow the national club’s monthly book selection.

Books, Brunches and Booze, launched in New Jersey in 2018, has 80 chapters in the United States and Canada, says founder Nicole Prager, 33, a part-time respiratory therapist. Members suggest books and vote via social media on which books will be the month’s selection; the club typically includes a virtual Q and A with the book’s author. The March book, for instance, was “Notes on an Execution,” by Danya Kukafka.

The club costs $6 a month, or $60 a year, to join. Prager says she started the group because she says book groups can be serious and “I kind of wanted to make it a little more fun.”

Laura Kaufherr, 36, of Middle Island, who works in finance, started the Long Island chapter in 2022 when she was looking for a book club to join and saw that the group’s closest chapter was in New York City. The group meets at houses or venues; one recent meeting was at AR Workshop, where members painted totes, had snacks and drinks and discussed the book.

Jill Rocco, 28, a digital product manager from Farmingdale, is a member of both the Silent Book Club and Books, Brunches and Booze. “It’s a completely different atmosphere and vibe,” Rocco says of Books, Brunches and Booze.

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