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Essays

Book Clubs Are Having a Moment

Erica Ezeifedi

Associate Editor

Erica Ezeifedi, Associate Editor, is a transplant from Nashville, TN that has settled in the North East. In addition to being a writer, she has worked as a victim advocate and in public libraries, where she has focused on creating safe spaces for queer teens, mentorship, and providing test prep instruction free to students. Outside of work, much of her free time is spent looking for her next great read and planning her next snack. Find her on Twitter at @Erica_Eze_.

Shortly after starting at Book Riot a few years ago, I took over writing for In the Club, our newsletter focused on book clubs (with a title that includes a tasteful pop culture reference, if I do say so myself). I’ve been writing it ever since, which means that each week, I’m knee-deep in book club shenanigans, and I have to say: book clubs are poppin’ right now.

While they’re certainly nowhere near being a new thing — Mikkaka Overstreet gave a nice, brief overview of the history of book clubs, which includes some ancient Greek circles — they are definitely having a moment in pop culture. It feels like everyone and their (famous) momma is starting or restarting a book club. Reese Witherspoon, Jenna Bush Hager, Emma Robert, Amerie, Dua Lipa, Emma Watson, Florence Welch, and Kaia Gerber all have book clubs. Jimmy Fallon just restarted his book club, and Dakota Johnson introduced the TeaTime Book Club this March.

But, why are book clubs so trendy within the entertainment industry?

My initial instincts point me to TikTok, with its more than 200 billion views, but some of these book clubs predate BookTok’s ascension, like Witherspoon’s, Jenna Bush Hager’s, Amerie’s, and, technically, Jimmy Fallon’s.

So then, what is it?

There are some who say that these entertainment industry book clubs are trying to fill the void left by Oprah’s book club, which, in its heyday, sold 20 million booksJenna Bush Hager’s and Reese Witherspoon’s respective clubs seem to be most comparable to Oprah’s in terms of influencing book sales, but there’s a slight difference.

For one, Witherspoon’s club seems to be the first step through a pipeline that leads to a movie adaptation — she recently sold her production company, Hello Sunshine, for $900 million. Through the company, Reese has purchased the rights to some of the books chosen as her book club’s monthly selection, and then gone on to sell those rights to companies like Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, and others.

Another way these present-day celebrity book clubs differ from Oprah’s — a part from the fact that most of them are run by thin and rich cis white women — is what feels like an obvious quest for clout. There are celebrity book stylists, who select which books their clients will be photographed with, and fashionistas — like Kaia Gerber and Kendall Jenner — who sport books like accessories. And, if they’re not toting tomes for their ‘fit, some of them are trying too hard to prove their depth. In an interview with Bustle, Dakota Johnson explained how her TeaTime book club “…is literary fiction. It’s not beach reads. It’s not silly.” Continuing, she said, “People need to deep dive into knowledge about specific things rather than talking about what f*cking face serum they’re using and thinking that that’s the most important thing in the world.” Now, to be fair, she did profess her love for face serums right after, but the need to establish that what her book club would be reading was capital L Literature by downplaying another kind of literature was a little gag-inducing.

Gagging aside, book clubs aren’t just popular among the celebrities — they’ve also increased in popularity for us non famous folks as well.

But why?

Various reports have illuminated how Millennials and Gen Z are flocking to places like libraries more than older generations. With this increased interest in libraries seems to have come an increased interest in book clubs. The reasons for this can be attributed to a few things. One, the pandemic gave many of us more free time, which translated into more reading time. The rise of BookTok is a testament to that. Add to this increased reading the fact that we’re currently in the midst of a loneliness epidemic and the fact that it’s harder to socialize in public without having to pay for something, and book clubs start to make sense.

For DazedOlivia Allen wrote about the current popularity book clubs are experiencing among Millennials and Gen Z, sharing how these groups that meet to discuss everything from Britney Spears to low-key obscure Russian lit are helping to reshape what socializing looks like in our modern era.

All in all, I’m happy to see more people talking about books in different places, even if the conversation first started because of superficiality or some variety of tired elitism. I am curious, though, to see how all the celebrity book clubs fare over time — and even if more of them will pop up (my soft answer is “yes”). Ultimately, I’m excited about this new era of book clubs and hope it lasts for a while.

If you are interested in bolstering your book club, you can, of course, subscribe to our book club newsletter, In the Club. There are also other online book clubs to follow, like Roxane Gay’sErin and Dani’s Indigenous Reading CircleMocha Girls Read, and more.

And, feel free to drop me a line on what you’ve loved and maybe loved a little less about your own book clubs!


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