Newsletter 1

Level Up with the Social Justice Book Club

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Rachel Manwill

Staff Writer

Rachel Manwill is an editor, writer, and professional nomad. Twice a year, she runs the #24in48 readathon, during which she does almost no reading. She's always looking for an excuse to recommend a book, whether you ask her for one or not. When she's not ranting about comma usage for her day job as a corporate editor, she's usually got an audiobook in her ears and a puppy in her lap. Blog: A Home Between Pages Twitter: @rachelmanwill

A lot of us are in (or have given up on) book clubs, either in person or online, and if your experiences are anything like mine, pushing your peers to read books that are socially or politically challenging or engaging in a productive, activist-minded conversation that doesn’t veer into mommy talk or job talk can be difficult to say the least.

Even finding like-minded readers that want to explore books about race or gender or immigration or poverty or criminal justice issues can be a major hurdle for readers that don’t live in a big city. Enter: The Social Justice Book Club (#SJBookClub for short).


Started last summer by Kerry McHugh of Entomology of a Book Worm after a Twitter conversation with a few fellow social justice-minded bloggers, the Social Justice Book Club is a bi-monthly conversation about a nonfiction title that is social justice focused. Selections have included books like Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman (which included a Q&A with the author). The club’s current selection is Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit.


New for 2017, Kerry has added a co-host, Janani Vaidya, and they’ve migrated the conversation from Twitter to a private and dedicated Slack group (which, let me tell you, is doing wonders for the conversations). There’s a rough schedule for the reading but since the beginning of the year, the discussions around Solnit’s book have ranged from specific (do the lessons of Bush’s presidency resonate in Trump’s America) to general (like how are my relationships with Trump-supporting family members going to be impacted). Discussions are wide-ranging and include varying viewpoints. Not every member shares the same political stance, which makes for interesting and thought-provoking conversation, but there is a shared sense that social justice is important and needs to be explored.

So far it’s a small, but engaged, group that’s migrated to the Slack group, about 30 or so, but new members are always welcome to join as well as suggest books for the club to read.  March’s book has already been announced: Sonia Nazario’s Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of a Honduran boy looking for his mother that puts a human face on the immigration debate in the US, Enrique’s Journey.

In the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration, keeping a firm grip on these important issues will be more crucial than ever. Reading books and engaging in conversation is one way to do just that. What books would you read in a social justice book club?