Chris Schulz Published

Book Club Brings The Sounds Of Silence To Morgantown Social Scene

A man in an olive green shirt and khaki shorts sits with his back against a stone pillar on a rock slanting towards the right of frame. The man holds up a black and blue book. Behind him, leanded up against wooden fencing emanating from the stone pillar towards the left of screen, is a sign that says "Silent Book Club," with a canvas bag designed to imitate a catalog card in front. In the background of the frame can be seen more people reading, as well as the edge of the rock with the canopy of trees behind giving way to a wooded horizon and a hazy sky.
Readers sit at the edge of Cooper's Rock during a recent meeting of the Silent Book Club June 23, 2024.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Standing atop Cooper’s Rock overlooking the Cheat River, far below on a recent Sunday morning, the sound that pervades is the wind in the treetops. 

You would be excused for not noticing that a group of about a dozen people have congregated on the rock for their monthly meeting. They’re all sitting, reading silently, together.

This is the Silent Book Club.

“You read whatever you want, and you socialize if you want to,” said Nada Aboraya, the founder of Morgantown’s Silent Book Club chapter. “It’s a great way to meet new people, get book recommendations, and kind of just get more familiar with the community in this town that loves to read. Because surprisingly, lots of people here love to read.”

Originating in San Francisco over a decade ago, there are now more than 1,000 Silent Book Club chapters in 50 countries around the world led by local volunteers like Aboraya. According to a chapter map – some pun intended – on the organization’s website, there are at least six other groups in West Virginia including Huntington, Charleston and Elk City. There’s even another chapter in Morgantown.

“I found out there is another chapter already, shout out Antiquity Tea House for the first chapter in Morgantown,” Aboraya said.  “They meet at their location, but the difference between mine is I wanted to meet in different local places. I wanted to rotate. So we’ve been everywhere.”

Legs and torsos dominate this frame as we see a line of readers sitting on a rock. Many of the legs and laps have books balanced on them. In the background can be seen a stone and wood fence framing the edge of the rocky outcropping the subjects are sitting on, with the upper canopy of trees visible behind the fence.
Readers at Silent Book Clubs enjoy their own books, distinct from traditional book clubs where everyone reads the same book.

Photo Credit: Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After growing up with her nose in a book, Aboraya said she recently realized that she stopped making time for reading in her life. Whenever she did, distractions were many, so she registered the Morgantown chapter late last year as a way to get herself back into reading.

“This is a small window of time, twice a month to meet with people, and just focus solely on reading, which is nice,” Aboraya said. “It kind of helped me. Everyone around you is reading, it’s not the same thing and there’s no obligation to socialize. But we’re all there reading together. So it’s awesome.”

Something Aboraya mentioned that is key to the enjoyment of Silent Book Club is that unlike traditional book clubs, everyone reads whatever they like. For example, Aboraya is reading two books in Sarah J. Mass’s Throne of Glass series.

Taylor Goldberg is one of Aboraya’s friends and a regular at the Silent Book Club. He said reading different books provides its own unique opportunities, while still allowing members to discuss their latest literary adventure.

“We’re probably going to be talking about books we’re reading,” Goldberg said. “With the Silent Book Club, you get to pick your own book and read it, but it definitely gives you ideas of things to read in the future. In the past, I’ve talked about reading with my friend, and he’s given me some new books to read.”

Goldberg said the group usually meets in cafes and restaurants – Aboraya said supporting and exploring local businesses was also a motivation for starting the group – but the outdoor location is a welcome change.

“This is out in nature, it’s kind of therapeutic with a nice breeze going on, and you get these awesome views and you’re reading,” he said. “I like this idea of doing a little reading session, and then we’re also planning on doing a hike afterwards. So that should be fun.”

A group of people sit against a wooden fence on the right side of frame on a rocky outcropping, with one person sitting apart to the left of the rest of the group. The people are all facing down, reading books they hold in their hands. In the background can be seen the tops of a tree canopy, and in the far background in the top left of frame can be seen a landscape falling away from the rocky outcropping.
Morgantown’s Silent Book Club members sit on Cooper’s Rock June 23, 2024.

Photo Credit: Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For Anthony Guzzi, who’s reading Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens, the chance to read outside is a welcome emphasis on the silent part of Silent Book Club.

“A lot of the places that we’ve been to have been kind of busy and noisy, just because the places we go to are still operating normally and they’re businesses,” he said. “Being able to get outside at a place like this. It’s just a lot more comfortable and relaxing.”

That said, Guzzi is grateful for the group and said he hopes to have the chance to keep coming back.

There seems to be no cause for concern about shutting down because Aboraya is just getting started. 

She talked about organizing a meetup between state or even regional chapters, maybe at the October West Virginia Book Festival. 

Aboraya said the group will continue to move around the region for the foreseeable future.

“West Virginia has a lot more now, specifically Morgantown has a lot of, like, small businesses,” she said. “I think going to different places, it’s a good way to show people that there’s a lot more to Morgantown than just the big chains, all that stuff. Some locations … people will come up to me and be like, ‘I didn’t know this coffee shop was here. The coffee here is fantastic. I didn’t know we had this bar, like this is awesome.’”

The group’s next meeting will be at a local public library July 9, a nice ease back into the hustle and bustle of the group’s usual haunts.