“You just made a rookie mistake,” the young woman told me.

It had been under three minutes since I’d arrived at FourFiveSix, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A mistake at a bar in under three minutes was a personal record.

“What did I do?” I asked.

The woman laughed. “You chose a backless seat.”

This was true. After fetching a drink, I had chosen a padded bench. Normally the topic of lumbar support would be irrelevant on a night out, but this evening was different.

On a cold Monday in December, 65 people were gathered for Reading Rhythms, an event that bills itself as “not a book club” but “a reading party.” The parties, which began in May, take place on rooftops, in parks and at bars. The premise is simple: Show up with a book, commit to vanquishing a chapter or two and chat with strangers about what you’ve just read.

Four people lounge in a bar, engrossed in reading. In the background, a woman sits on a couch piled with coats, reading Tommy Orange’s “There There.” In the center, a woman seen in three-quarter profile is perched in a seat with a paperback in her right hand.
One attendee compared the event to a workout class, noting that both harnessed the effects of peer pressure — in a good way.Credit…Lila Barth for The New York Times

The attendees that night, each of whom had paid a $10 entry fee, were the lucky ones: 270 people were on the wait-list to get in. Just because a city never sleeps doesn’t mean it isn’t crammed with introverts who wish to turn pages in companionable silence.

The idea for Reading Rhythms emerged when four friends in their 20s — Ben Bradbury, Charlotte Jackson, John Lifrieri and Tom Worcester — discovered a shared sense of alarm over the deterioration of their book consumption. The causes were what you’d expect: annihilated attention spans, too much socializing, the treacherous enchantments of the iPhone.

Bradbury and Worcester, who are roommates, hosted the first event on their rooftop. A playlist was compiled, 10 friends showed up with books, everyone read for a bit and talked about what they’d read, and then … went home. It was, Bradbury later recalled, “quite special.” No, really!

“I got an hour of reading done and I hung out with some of my best friends, which I’d wanted to do anyway,” he said. “That doesn’t usually happen.”

Jackson left the first party feeling that she’d “scratched the itch of being in the library at school, waxing philosophical late at night with friends,” but without the burden of an exam or essay on the horizon. “There was no end game; it was purely fun.”

The four solidified a format, gave the series a name, planned additional parties, opened up the invite list and started an Instagram account. Since May there have been parties in New York, Los Angeles and (of all places) Croatia. The parties have grown in size: One scheduled for February has capacity for 175 readers, and the lion’s share of the slots are already filled.

Last month, a TikTok video about the series went viral. Predictably, skeptical commenters chimed in: “Hipsters recreated the library and think it’s profound 😂” and “sooooooooooooo … a glorified library?”

The focus of this photograph is a man with dark hair and a beard who sits under a black-and-white painting, reading. In the foreground, two people sit back to back, absorbed in books.
John Lifrieri, center, one of the founders of Reading Rhythms, approached the halfway mark of David Deida’s “The Way of the Superior Man” during a gathering this month.Credit…Lila Barth for The New York Times

But at the event this month, none of the guests seemed to operate under the illusion that they’d reinvented any wheels. And “glorified library” actually described the ambience well: Seating included antique armchairs, deep sofas and velvety settees; flickering votive candles emitted an amber glow; hot toddies and beer were available. There was live piano music. A faux fire faux-burned cozily against one wall.

As the founders continued to host parties, they settled upon a structure. Attendees are given a name tag and half an hour to find a seat and settle in. A host then gets up before the crowd and explains the night’s schedule: 30 minutes of reading, a break, 30 more minutes of reading and then a set of discussions organized around loose prompts. Parties are held early in the week to capture gentle, non-weekend energy.

The first 30 minutes passed quickly. Lifrieri, one of the founders, suggested everyone pluck an idea from what we’d just read and “turn to a stranger” to discuss. An icy dart of trepidation shot through my body at the command, but to a stranger I turned: Dilvan, 29, who was reading Michael A. Singer’s “The Untethered Soul.”

Dilvan shared a paragraph that she’d highlighted and we discussed its implications, which turned out to be mutually troubling. Conversation turned to other topics: Dilvan had moved to the United States from Turkey for college, specifically to study in “a cold location” featuring snow. The idea of weather-based school selection was fascinating to me. Dilvan landed in Minnesota, which satisfied her temperature requirements and also prompted her to learn English rapidly thanks to the absence of other Turks in the area.

A glance around the room revealed strangers deep in conversation. Everyone had found her Dilvan.

In a dimly lit bar, dozens of people sit at tables and on couches, absorbed in books.
Will 2024 be the year of the reading party?Credit…Lila Barth for The New York Times

The second reading chunk was announced and people obediently reopened their books. Nearby titles included “A Common Life: Four Generations of American Literary Friendships and Influence,” by David Laskin, “The Verifiers,” by Jane Pek, and “Anam Cara: A Book Of Celtic Wisdom,” by John O’Donohue.

Reading postures varied. Some attendees sat cross-legged with a book resting lapwise. Others were curled up on a sofa. Many adopted a modified “The Thinker” position. One man read his book standing ramrod straight, like a marsh bird. Not once did a cellphone chime.

By the time the second block ended, a spirit of modest accomplishment pervaded the room. Sitting close by was a man named Adam who had attended three Reading Rhythms events and planned to host one in the near future. What had converted him so swiftly?

“Outside of school and religious ceremonies, there are hardly any environments where we get to read in unison,” Adam said. “It’s kind of beautiful, no?”

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