Where Nobody Knows, Nor Dare Says, Your Name
“Bean dip?” On the face of it, this is an innocent enough question, particularly as it’s asked by a waiter with a bowl of bean dip in his hand. But here at Portland’s Beech Street Parlor, it elicits a volley of glares and sharp exhalations. The recipient of the dip, a bespectacled young woman, buries her face further into a periwinkle-colored paperback as the waiter shuffles quietly away.
There are, scattered around the bar, a number of clues indicating that this isn’t your average night out: a candy bowl of earplugs at the door, a half-dozen signs reading shhh, a drinks menu with cocktails like All Quiet on the Western Front, and a room filled with people neither speaking to each other nor making eye contact.
Inspired by a similar event in Seattle, the weekly Silent Reading Party was launched last fall by Karen Munro and Amanda Morgan, a pair of local “book-loving introverts” who, as Munro puts it, “like going out for fancy cocktails but sometimes need a break from talking to other people.”
On a busy night, the two-hour event can attract a crowd of 100. Today there are maybe a couple of dozen people, sitting, reclining, or standing around, books in hand. A lanky woman with a pixie cut cradles hers as if to hide its title from prying eyes.
“I think this is a perennial problem for book nerds,” says Morgan. “I’m always peering over to see what people are reading.”
“There’s got to be a word for that feeling that bookish people get when they see an interesting title in someone else’s hand,” adds Munro. “Buch-eifersucht, maybe?”
Not that anyone here will ever really know what others think about their reading habits. The bean dip incident is about as blabby as these events get. “When we first started, we both dreaded having to shush people,” says Morgan. “But we haven’t really had to. I think folks get it—if you want to chat, you’re probably going to find a better venue for it than a silent reading party.”