Reading from Molière, by Jean François de Troy (Paris, around 1728)
A salon is an occasion when a group of friends meet in a home to enjoy each others company by discussing literature or politics or some other topic of mutual interest. A group of six to eight people usually agree to each read a portion of a book, or perhaps a magazine article, in preparation for their meeting. These conversations start with the presented subject, but usually take their own course from there.
Historically, salons were popular entertainments among (ahem!) European Aristocracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In more recent times, Gertrude Stein was famous for the salons she hosted in the 1940's. For additional historical information, see the Wikipedia entry, here.
"Salons: The Joy of Conversation (Utne Reader Books, 1991). From the ancient Greek symposia to Gertrude Stein's famous Paris gatherings, salons have always been the incubators of provocative-at times even dangerous-ideas: the frontiers of cultural change. People who might elsewhere have been socially ostracized were included in salons, welcomed for their wit, intelligence, charm, and insight. And passionate conversation often led to passionate action. In 1991 Utne Reader launched a salon renaissance all over North America when it featured a cover story on salons. The response to the article was staggering, leading Utne to organize a National Salon Association [now defunct] that quickly drew over 20,000 members."