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Whether we realize it or not, books are not just a solitary activity. Book lovers love to share their thoughts about the books they are reading, and to recommend books to friends, family and colleagues. Seldom do we just shelve a book immediately after reading, never to think about it again. Instead, we share our reading choices on Social Media, mention it in conversation, or give it to a fellow book lover to read.

 

Book clubs have existed in some form since at least the 1630s when Puritan groups got together to discuss the bible, and have taken many forms since then.  In 1727, Benjamin Franklin organized the Junto Literary Society to discuss philosophy, morality, and science. In 1840, the first bookstore sponsored book club in the United States began in Boston, and they have continued to grow and evolve.

 

According to Booknet Canada, as of September 2018, 7% of Canadian adult book buyers belong to a book club, 28% of readers belong to a book club or reading group (whether they buy books or not), and 8% of those surveyed said they found their last read through a book club.

 

Traditionally, book club picks were selected by members of the group, the library, or the book store, and members would meet in person to discuss the book.  This changed in 1996 when Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime television used her power and influence to “get the whole country reading again”, and launched a televised book club.

 

Beginning with Jaqueline Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean, she invited viewers to read the book, and then hosted the author on her show a few weeks later. In the 15 years of her original club, she recommended 70 books, many of which have become bestsellers.

 

In 2012, Oprah launched the 2.0 version of her book club in conjunction with her magazine, and television network, this time incorporating social media platforms. Later this year, she’ll be officially reviving her book club again, this time on the new streaming platform Apple TV+.

 

In many ways, celebrity book clubs are one of the best things to happen to publishers and authors since the founding of the book-of-the-month club in 1926. Prior to the onset of bookstore chains, a book-of-the-month club selection was one of the best ways to get wide distribution for your book.

 

Today, having a celebrity such as Oprah recommend your book can increase sales by the millions. Oprah has 15 million followers on Instagram and 4.4 million followers on twitter, and her endorsement is publishing gold. Recently, she announced The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates as her latest pick, and the book will almost certainly land on bestseller lists.  

     

Two other celebrities influencing readers are actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Reese Witherspoon. Parker is a voracious reader, and recently completed a two-year term as honorary chair of Book Club Central for the American Library Association. She is also the editorial director for her own imprint SJP for Hogarth, where she acquires books that appeal to her own taste as a reader.

 

Witherspoon launched her book club in 2017, and it was born out of her love of reading. Witherspoon is an avid reader, and she casually started posting pictures of the books she was reading on her Instagram. The club grew into something more formal from there, and now has 1.1 million members.

 

Since 2017, Witherspoon has selected  28 titles, many of which have landed on the New York Times Bestseller list, Her 2017 selection of debut author Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing is currently #9 on the Globe and Mail Bestseller list, has spent 54 weeks on the NYT bestseller list, and was the top selling print book in the U.S. for the first half of 2019.

Would the book have been a bestseller regardless? Possibly, but it’s more likely that the 1.1 million U.S. sales can be attributed to the power of Witherspoon’s endorsement.

 

Witherspoon’s September 2019 pick The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott was inspired by the true story of the CIA’s mission to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the U.S.S.R. where nobody would publish it, juxtaposed with the love story between author Boris Pasternak and his mistress Olga.

 

Naturally the book has rocketed to bestseller status, and film rights have been acquired. The publisher reportedly paid $2 million for rights, signaling that they expected big things from it, but being a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick has almost certainly helped.

 

Normally, celebrities don’t influence me to read a book, but this one intrigued me, and I ended up really enjoying it. I learned something about a period in history I knew nothing about, and I was invested in the characters and the story.  I confess I’ve never read Zhivago, but after reading this, I want to. It has also made me take notice of Witherspoon’s other picks, a number of which I’m interested in reading.

 

While enjoying this one title doesn’t mean that I’ll actively seek out future celebrity book club recommendations, as a book lover I appreciate what they do for discovery and exposure, and anything that gets millions of people reading and talking about books is good with me!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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