By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees
Back in 1996, Oprah Winfrey introduced her book club segment as part of her renowned talk show. The aim: to share a new book with viewers on a monthly basis, encouraging discussion with her fans and showcasing her passion for reading. Two decades on, the book club continues to thrive, having recommended ninety-two titles since its inception. In partnership with Apple, the book club has found a new home, including several social media platforms. Now, more celebrities are following suit, using social media to reinvent the typical book club and connect with like-minded readers across the globe, including Florence Welch’s Between Two Books. Defining itself as a “vibrant online community,” the club collaborates with guest artists, musicians and writers for recommendations. Discussions take place across multiple platforms, and includes Q&A sessions and guest readings.
Endorsements from such book clubs can be a sales-driving accolade for a book, and can also aid in highlighting debut authors. The wide variety and growth of celebrity book clubs calls into question how stars of stage and screen affect our reading habits. Is the success behind the clubs themselves merely owed to a big name? Or is it the communities that interact across social media every month? Are celebrity book clubs the way forward in leading the resurgence in reading?
Kaia Gerber’s Book Club
Like many of us, bored and uninspired during lockdown, model and actress Kaia Gerber decided to start up her own Instagram-based book club in an effort to connect with her 7.2 million followers through a shared love of books. Kaia’s first choice was the much-loved Normal People by Irish literary legend, Sally Rooney. There is no doubt that endorsements from figures such as Kaia, just a month prior to the airing of Normal People’s screen adaptation, contributed to rising sales of the book and also Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends.
A unique aspect to this particular book club is the livestream debrief between Kaia and her guests, creating a more intimate way to discuss the books and offer followers the chance to engage by submitting their own questions. Guests include the authors themselves, stars of Normal People Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal, model Emily Ratajkowski, and Kaia’s own supermodel mother Cindy Crawford.
Kaia’s book club can be praised for the diversity of texts on offer. Alongside recommendations for Joan Didion, Delia Owens and Lena Dunham, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half explores themes of identity, sisterhood and racial passing, and Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age, discusses questions of inequality and privilege. The guests that feature enable these important conversations, whether they are the authors of the book in question or other activists such as transgender actress Tommy Dorfman, or actress and environmentalist Jane Fonda.
Kaia has succeeded in helping to raise the profiles of many backlist titles and diverse books, as well as encouraging her followers to shop independently by partnering with New York bookstore McNally Jackson to share her favourite reads.
Reese’s Book Club
Another one of the most popular book clubs to have taken off in recent years is undoubtedly Reese’s Book Club launched by the actress, producer and entrepreneur in collaboration with her media company Hello Sunshine, to exclusively highlight stories written by women. This carefully curated list of books, chosen from a wide range of genres every month, features everything from poignant and thought-provoking memoirs on the experience of being a Black woman in America, to heart-warming historical fiction featuring compelling characters with complex backgrounds.
Given her already established reputation for developing captivating stories it can be no surprise that this book club has become something of a phenomenon, capable of launching any title to the top of bestseller lists. Author Maria Hummel, for example, saw a 103% increase in sales for her novel Still Lives after it was picked for Reese’s Book Club, and debut authors and seasoned novelists alike have described being chosen for the book club as akin to winning the lottery.
With that sunshine yellow book club sticker becoming as heralded an accolade as a prize award this is a fantastic honour for publishers to highlight if their book becomes one of the lucky few to be chosen. And indeed many have jumped at the opportunity to plaster Reese’s name on their print and kindle editions, mentioning it in copy, adding additional flashes to their marketing materials or even creating whole landing pages on their online bookstores dedicated to the book club picks.
Ultimately, the effect of being listed in a top celebrity book club is an undeniable one. And while it might be important to consider the possible disadvantage of relying too heavily on celebrity recommendations, when done well, a good book club can be an incredible way to encourage people to try a range of diverse authors and genres. The seal of approval from the right celebrity could be a career defining moment for some lucky writers and their publishing team.