Radhiyya Indra (The Jakarta post)
Fri 1 April 2022
Every month, without presentations or discussions, complete strangers go online and spend an hour of their time reading in front of their cameras.
The clock strikes 3 p.m. one day a month and people stop what they’re doing, open their laptops, join a Zoom meeting and just read the book they have to hand in with the others.
For the whole hour, no one said anything.
This event is called Baca Bareng (reading together), a gathering organized by the Indonesian community of the Silent Book Club, a movement born in the United States. But unlike many other book clubs or gatherings, its participants come together to read, without any discussion of the books they bring.
“I’ve loved reading books since I was little,” said graduate student Pradita “Dita” Artha. Jakarta Post March 5. “But in recent years, my interest and desire to read has not been as great as before,” Dita added.
And so, stumbling upon this atypical book club on social media, she joined the February session on Zoom, intending to read just a few pages of Banana Yoshimoto’s book. Food which she had put off for a moment.
After an hour, she realized she had read over 70 pages.
“I rediscovered the pleasure of reading with this activity! said Dita, buzzing with excitement.
Start Small: Silent Book Club’s First Baca Bareng Gathering at Starbucks Menteng Huis in Central Jakarta, August 2019. (Personal collection/Courtesy Hestia Istiviani) (Personal collection/Courtesy Hestia Istiviani)
The Silent Book Club actually started in a physical space in San Francisco, USA in 2012. Now with over 70 chapters around the world, the club found its way to Indonesia in late 2019. Readers greedy meet in a small cafe. or library and just, you know, reading. No introductions, no icebreakers, just a bunch of strangers huddled together to start their reading.
“Meeting new people in this space is such a joy,” said Hestia Istiviani, the Indonesian initiator of the Silent Book Club. To post March 6.
The “bookfluencer” has a personal – and rather emotional – motivation to start the community. “Personally speaking, I had just broken up at the time and I felt like I had no one left to accompany me in reading,” Hestia explained.
After moving from Surabaya to Jakarta and discovering the Silent Book Club, she then approached community representatives in the United States for permission to establish an Indonesian chapter, which they graciously granted.
“Create this gathering of Baca Bareng as [part of] the Silent Book Club was a way for me to get the ‘corporate reading’ atmosphere into public spaces,” she explained.
But she also saw that many people were afraid of being judged when reading in public. “By keeping them company, we hope they are encouraged to read more comfortably,” she said.
Indonesian readers share the same sentiment. The Baca Bareng session never lacks participants, although no one knows each other. More than 60 people joined the party last month.
“I heard about the Silent Book Club long before the pandemic; I found his session in a small library,” 23-year-old author Firnita told the To post the 3 of March.
Since then, Firnita has joined her gatherings every two to three months, until online sessions when the pandemic hit.
Anywhere, Anytime: ‘Bookfluencer’ and Baca Bareng initiator Hestia Istivianti is pictured reading a book on her Instagram post on November 2, 2021. (Instagram/Courtesy Hestia Istivianti) (Instagram/Courtesy of Hestia Istivianti)
In the age of working from home, where the culture of not turning on the camera to show your face is often allowed, Firnita has found the online session – which requires her readers to show themselves reading on camera – a bit awkward at first.
“But I found more similarities between offline and online sessions now,” she said as that awkwardness subsided. Something that remains in the virtual space of the session is the feeling of unity.
“We go and read a book, and then for sure we start to lose focus, so we pause to look around and realize ‘Oh, there are people who are still reading, just like me'” , she explained.
She can now report some people who often come back to online meetings when they haven’t had any conversations with them. And who knows, they might get to know each other off-screen.
“It’s easier for me to read here than to read alone, which usually forces me to read a page or two before I get distracted by my endless phone scrolls and finally abandon the book,” Firnita said. .
Reading boost during the pandemic
For Desyanti, a 46-year-old civil servant, the Silent Book Club is more about personal enjoyment as she considers herself an introvert.
“I’m not someone who likes to join a club or a community. I like to do things alone,” she told the To post the 3 of March.
But after reading the description of the club, she found that the activity of the Silent Book Club suited her. She would join the Zoom meeting and everyone would instantly plunge into their own world of books. After an hour, they take a picture together and say goodbye.
“I always feel like I’m reading alone. Together, but not saying a word,” she explained.
During the last Baca Bareng session, she was able to read 30 pages of a non-fiction book – quite an achievement after her reading drought during the pandemic.
“I bought a lot of books at the start of the pandemic, but I kept reading them,” she said, noting the pile of books she amassed.
The same problem happened with Dita. “I tried to spend more time reading this year,” she explained.
Both eventually found a way to turn their reading drive into real-time reading across the club.
“After joining [the Baca Bareng session], I feel like I can spend a little more time reading. It doesn’t have to be an hour, of course, but at least I can read every day,” Dita said.
Through its online version, Desi and Pradita are among the many able to participate in Jakarta-based Baca Bareng sessions from Bandung and Purworejo respectively. Online participants are now expanding across the country.
Total Focus: Silent Book Club participant Pradita Artha finds the “silent reading” activity rewarding. (Personal collection/Courtesy of Pradita Artha) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Pradita Artha)
“I’m happy to see the enthusiasm of people [about the community]. I didn’t expect that to be accepted by a lot of people,” Hestia said.
The loose, non-membership system seems to be appropriate for readers who just want to read together silently. And it is this very system that Hestia hopes to ingrain among people in the future.
“I hope there will be more similar dumb book clubs [in the country]”, Hestia said. “Such an initiative is very easy to imitate and apply to anyone’s environment. Maybe you can start with your two or three close friends,” she added, hoping that such habits would develop.