NEW YORK, April 23 – Since the start of the pandemic, book clubs, out of fashion, have been reborn on social networks where they are attracting a new generation of influencers. These new literary discussion forums have been driven by a growing craze for reading as an antidote to the fatigue inspired by the Covid.
“Welcome to my book club” isn’t necessarily the first thing you might expect from Kaia Gerber. But since the start of the pandemic, the young American model has regularly invited big names in literature and other media personalities to discuss books on her Instagram account. In March of this year, she spoke for 30 minutes with New York-based bookseller Sarah McNally about the satirical novel. Breaking of Ling Ma, and the future of independent bookstores. The discussion was followed by tens of thousands of Internet users, as well as all the meetings of the book club of Gerber.
And she’s not the only celebrity to have recently emerged in a growing ecosystem of literary influencers, known as “Bookstammers” or “BookTokers” on social media. After being mocked in the past, in recent years book clubs have become more and more popular. Aside from the stereotypical old-fashioned reading groups populated by the middle-aged middle class, they are now the staple of avowed book addicts, who are mostly educated, urban readers.
What, you might ask, motivates them to join these clubs? For the most part, it’s the pleasure of chatting and a chance to discover works they might never have encountered without the recommendations of leading literary experts. Some celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Florence Welch or the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles, have been more than happy to take on this role for very eclectic gatherings of readers.
“Books are used as a pretext”
This great diversity of profiles is an effect of the pandemic on literary fairs. While health restrictions have forced most book clubs to migrate online, the fact that they are now virtual has allowed them to reach a wider audience. While some new book club members have joined in for a chance to browse the libraries of their favorite influencers, others are keen to make up for the lack of social connection. This is the case of Delia, 26, who finally created her own group.
Having found herself unemployed at the start of the health crisis, the young woman, armed with her books, returned to live with her parents. “For the first time in my life, I was able to take the time to read,” she explains. Having rediscovered the joys of the written word, Delia went on to create her own online French-language gathering, “Overbooked”, which she describes on Instagram as “a safe space for people exhausted by news networks”. She now chats regularly with her 500 subscribers about books that relate to her favorite topics such as Sisters in Ecology (Sisters in Ecology) by Pascale d’Erm, Feminisms & Pop Culture (Feminism and Pop Culture) by Jennifer Padjemi or The power of mothers (The power of mothers) by Fatima Ouassak.
“I realized that I was not in a position to discuss these subjects with many people in my immediate social circle, especially since the start of the health crisis. After the second lockdown ended, I began to think about a project that would allow me to explore these topics in discussions with other readers that were neither bogus nor overly controversial. It was then that I had the idea of a book club, ”explains Delia. It was nevertheless a surprising choice for an avid reader who had never attended such a gathering.
“Books are used as a pretext. I really wanted to talk about topics that I consider essential, and discuss them with people that I might never have met without the “Overbooked”, “she adds. Although Delia initially planned to restrict the book club to female readers, she changed her mind so that everyone could participate in the debates on topics such as racism and eco-feminism. That said, the overwhelming majority of Overbooked members are women.
A community of predominantly female readers
The phenomenon is not unique to Delia’s book club, but often seen in the publishing world. Numerous studies have shown that women are more avid readers than men. One in particular, conducted by UK consultancy Audience Agency, also reported that female readers consume more fiction titles than their male counterparts. And some publishers like Belfond hope to take advantage of this regular consumption by launching their own virtual book clubs.
For the past four years, Carine Verschaeve has had regular discussions with librarians, booksellers, bloggers and other literature enthusiasts within the Belfond Readers’ Circle. In total, the book club has more than a thousand members who share their opinion on the novels in the Cercle Belfond collection on Facebook. “I was keen to create a space where readers could meet to discuss our titles,” explains the publisher. “It is not always easy to create communities of readers when the authors are not French-speaking, as is the case with those of the Cercle Belfond.
The online world has also proven to be very useful in facilitating exchanges with American and British writers like Julie Kibler, Emily Elgar or Hannah Richell, once shyness has been removed. “It’s a bit like school: not many people really want to speak in a book club. Especially when it comes to asking questions of a non-French speaking author in English. However, the way in which our book club was set up allowed us to overcome this language barrier, ”explains Carine Verschaeve.
If the book club concentrates on the works published by the Cercle Belfond, it is in no way a promotional tool. “What’s interesting about this type of community is that it also encourages people to go to bookstores. Not just to buy our titles, but for all kinds of books. Let’s not forget that reading and books are what really matters.
Show me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are
The health crisis has shown everyone, even those who were not convinced, that “reading is chic”. These days, celebrities are tired of posting photos of their getaways, instead they share more personal snaps of their libraries or the books waiting for them on their nightstands. It’s a paradigm shift that has caught the attention of leaders in the tech start-up world, most notably Padmasree Warrior.
After having spent most of her career at the head of large groups such as Cisco, Motorola or Nio, the Indo-American entrepreneur now devotes herself to online literary fairs. Padmasree Warrior recently launched Fable, a start-up that allows its users to join book clubs run by famous experts and authors such as Paulo Coelho, Chitra Divakaruni and Jasmine Guillory. Even the most daring new members can start their own book club and follow in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey. But it all comes at a cost: $ 69 for a premium annual subscription.
If Fable aims to establish itself in an industry dominated by the giant Goodreads, it also hopes to stand out by contributing to mental health. “I grew up in a small town in India where books were my refuge from boredom and stress. There is now more and more evidence to support what I intuitively understood – reading is a powerful tool for improving mental well-being, ”says Padmasree Warrior on the start-up’s website. “I started Fable so we could all fill the micro-moments of our busy lives with stories.” Whether you are looking for social interactions or keen to take care of your personal well-being, with the vast choice available to you, it now seems like there is a book club for all of us. – ETX Studio