UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — At the ’70s-themed lesbian cocktail bar Dorothy, guests regularly curled up with books. So employees at the space decided to launch a Silent Book Club, a casual monthly gathering where bar-goers can read together in quiet camaraderie. There’s no pressure to finish a specific book, socialize or do anything but read.
The book club kicked off Sept. 24 and will be held on the second Sunday of every month moving forward. The next meetup is 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8.
Dorothy, located at 2500 W. Chicago Ave, will play instrumental music at a lower volume than normal and keep the lights a little brighter for the hour or so of reading time.
Before Silent Book Club launched, guests often brought their books to Dorothy on regular nights, even with dimmer lights and louder music. When Dorothy’s creative director Whitney LaMora heard about Silent Book Clubs on a literature podcast, she said she knew that setup would be perfect for the bar.
“We already naturally had a whole bunch of folks coming in on a nightly basis and reading in our lounge all over, at the bar or tucked in at the couch,” said LaMora, 37, who leads the space’s programming. “Anything from slow nights to [when] the music is pumping, someone can be found reading next to a lamp at times, which I think is so endearing.”
Charlie Schumann, a writer and bookseller who lives in Logan Square, was doing exactly that when LaMora approached them with the idea this summer.
“It was very funny. I was literally sitting at the bar reading and Whitney came up to me and said, ‘This is so perfect. Charlie, do you know about Silent Book Clubs?'” said Schumann, 28, who uses they/he pronouns. “Me and Whitney kind of daydreamed it together.”
“Even though [Silent Book Club] is a very passive event, I think it’s good to have someone to come to for any questions or if you want to socialize. And I thought Charlie would be the perfect person,” LaMora said.
Schumann is now the book club’s curator, and they hope it can be a quiet, safe space where people can read alone without the pressure to socialize, but also a way for people who are more socially inclined to mingle and make friends.
“The whole point is silent camaraderie,” Schumann said. “But this being in a lesbian bar, our idea was it would also be a place for people who are reading queer literature to meet each other if they’re interested in that.”
Schumann said they weren’t sure how many people would show up to Silent Book Club when they first posted it online, but it took off immediately.
More than 240 people RSVP’d before the first meetup, far surpassing the bar’s capacity of 120, and nearly 100 showed up Sunday, LaMora said. People started lining up outside the bar with books in hand before doors opened at 6 p.m., which Schumann said was “really nice and cool.”
“The Silent Book Club is a well-known global thing,” LaMora said. “I’ve had so many people reach out to me who live in different states and different countries, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I do this in Amsterdam’ or ‘I do this in Seattle.'”
There are already more than 50 RSVPs for the next meeting, she said.
Unlike a traditional book club, Silent Book Club doesn’t have required readings or discussion questions. Attendees can simply bring whatever book they like, find a spot at the bar, on a sofa or the floor and read in silence. Schumann said they’ll be curating recommended reading lists for each month, though, “which you’re welcome to explore, bring to the bar or completely ignore and read whatever you want.”
For October, Schumann suggests three spooky-themed reads: “It Came From the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror” edited by Joe Vallese, “Dead Collections” by Isaac Fellman and “Carmilla” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Schumann said their goal is to offer one nonfiction pick each month and to suggest both modern and classic pieces of literature.
“Just having diversity in terms of kind of books, of the authors, when they were published, all those kinds of things,” Schumann said.
Dorothy created an online bookshop where people can purchase the suggested texts while supporting Semicolon, Chicago’s largest Black-woman owned bookstore and gallery. LaMora and Schumann are also setting up a free library shelf in the bar, where people will be able to take and leave books for one another. It will likely be ready by November, LaMora said.
“We hope to give back, we hope to make friends, we hope to expose more people to more queer stories,” LaMora said. “And of course, we hope to bring more and more people into Dorothy, to give more and more people the excuse to come in and hang out with us.”
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