Walking past a colleague's desk a few weeks ago, I stopped to look at a stack of new books, resting next to her laptop. "Tell me I'll still be able to read while I'm on maternity leave," she said, placing a hand on her swollen belly. "Everyone tells me I won't have time when she arrives."
"Maybe - unlike me - you'll get a baby who sleeps," I laughed, recalling that I, too, had the same maternity leave plans - devouring book after book while my little one napped. The reality, of course, was very, very, different - as many other bookworms also discover.
A common lamentation of avid readers, like me and my colleague, is that along with hot cups of coffee and sleep-ins, motherhood also means saying goodbye to long afternoons curled up with a novel, as the relentless demands of caring for young children take priority. But, as it turns out, there might be a solution.
Writer Maggie Downs, was able to get her "reading life" back after becoming a mother, by joining a Silent Book Club. Also referred to as "cocktail hour for introverts", it's a freaking genius idea.
"The premise for this book club is simple," Downs explains in an article for Lit Hub. "It's a gathering of people who go out to a public space for the purpose of reading together. Unlike traditional book clubs, there are no mandatory reading selections, and nobody facilitates a discussion."
For Downs, as the mother of a toddler, trying to find time to read for pleasure was an ongoing challenge. "During the day, I'm either working or playing with my child," she writes. "At night, I can't crack open a book without the crushing guilt of the dirty dishes or the overflowing laundry hamper, or, hell, my actual professional work."
It's precisely how Silent Book Club co-founder Guinevere de la Mare felt, when she and two friends - who wanted the social aspect of a book club, minus the rules - created the first gathering in San Francisco in 2012. "With an infant or a toddler, to be able to sit in your house and read a book, it's a luxury and a privilege you just don't get," she told Downs. For de la Mare, the solution was making time to do nothing but that - "read, wine, repeat".
"There are people for whom Silent Book Club has become a meaningful part of their social lives," she says, adding that the beauty of the clubs is that it's up to individual groups to make them their own.
Not everyone will "get it" however. "For those who are our people, it just clicks and makes sense," de la Mare says. "For everyone else, they just look at you like you're crazy."
That said, the idea is quickly gaining in popularity. There are now over 40 Silent Book Club chapters around the world, groups of like-minded people meeting in cafés, libraries, restaurants, pubs, and on picnic blankets in parks.
I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people who "get it". When I first read Downs' piece it stuck me just how wonderful Silent Book Club would have been when I was a new mum, struggling to hold onto my pre-baby self. Women often talk about losing themselves in motherhood, of being swallowed in the minutiae of nap times and purees and Peppa Pig. But I didn't just lose myself in motherhood, I lost myself in mental illness, too – a serious psychotic depression that tore my brain and my heart to shreds.
While I wasn't really up to socialising, I needed it, needed to be around people to break the numbing isolation of new motherhood. And a book club, one where I was out with others, but didn't need to talk about breastfeeding, or poo, or how I hadn't yet bonded with my baby (and did that make me a monster?), where I could grasp onto something about my pre-baby identity - my love of reading - would have been a godsend.
When I floated the idea to a number of book-loving mothers - and fathers - in my life, it was met with a resounding: "Yes! How do we make this happen?" Those of us who've become introverted post motherhood, or have "failed" at traditional book clubs agreed it was the perfect solution.
As de la Mare said, however, not everyone thinks it's a winner. One of my friends pondered the concept for a moment before responding: "I just can't be part of a book club where I can't talk. It's contrary to my nature."
"That's cool," I said. You're just not one of us."
"Wait," he continued, clearly still struggling. "Does everyone have the same book?"
"Nope," I said. "You can bring whatever you want. That's why it's awesome."
"So it's basically like being on a tram."
See, doesn't get it.
Honestly, the idea of falling into a book around others who love to read, of socialising without socialising, sounds oh-so-perfect to this thirty-something, introverted, mother-of-one. So let's make this a thing here in Australia, pretty please.
Who's with me?
If you're keen to start a local chapter, find more information here