On Zoom and reading

Did you know The Stranger is organizing silent group reads to feel less lonely? I find this horrifying. I struggle to make sure people I don’t know have very curated access to my life. The last thing I need is a rogues gallery of rejected Hollywood Squares participants watching me nod off in my ratty sweater by the fire. Some things are sacred, even when I’m lonely. Reading time is one of them.

You’d be surprised how long it took me to find a HS snap with Charo in it. I was hoping to get Vincent Price in there too, but I don’t have all day.

My silent reading party begins the same way every week, promptly at 6 p.m., with the now very familiar initiation of a Zoom call. A piano player’s hands appear in close-up among the gallery of boxes on my screen. His set list, a mix of Eric Satie and Radiohead instrumentals, will be the only sound. Like the windows of a New York City apartment building at night, other boxes soon come to life. People are in their homes, on their couches or in bed, all with a book. A hundred, then two hundred, absorbed in their reading, muted.

There’s a gray-haired woman at her kitchen table, more daydreaming than reading. There are couples, some eating bowls of pasta; a mother and daughter snuggling on a sofa; a woman petting her dog in front of a fireplace; a young man and woman sitting in armchairs dressed in a suit and sequin gown, martinis in their free hands. One week, I counted five cats, nine dogs and 22 glasses of wine. Inside one unforgettable box was a woman lying on her red leather couch, her book resting on her chest and her eyes closed — she’d fallen asleep. This lasts two hours. It’s mesmerizing, found performance art.

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