Published OC Register, June 23, 2021
When Literati flashed an announcement on my Facebook feed a few months ago, I was flattered. “Join an exclusive book club with authors, leaders, visionaries – and you,” the announcement promised. All I needed to do was become a member, and exclusivity would be mine. I’d be gifted “good reads from people you can actually trust.”
Joining, I discovered, meant opening my wallet. What? How exclusive was this club? Other than the purchase price, why would I want to pay to read a book? My earliest book club experiences were with a group of like-minded women who got together once a month over coffee – or wine – to share thoughts about whatever book we had chosen to read.
Until the Literati announcement, I had no idea of the vastness of online offerings, all based on subscription models. Clubs exist for readers of every taste: mystery, thriller, adventure, romance, art, history. The list is endless. Outlets like the famed Oprah’s Book Club or Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine trade on celebrity status to attract members, and offer merchandise to further connect their readers to their programs. There also are clubs that have specific focus on literary genres, such as Black Lit Box or My Thrill Club.
Want something to jump-start your morning? My Coffee and Book Club promises 12 ounces of gourmet coffee, two new hardcover books in your selected genre and an ebook selection. Interested in recycling? Used Books Monthly sends five gently used books to your door.
The granddaddy of all, Book of the Month Club, started the idea some 95 years ago. Today it promises that you will “read more, research less and save money with discounts on purchases.” Why subscribe? “Early releases, vetted quality and, oh, we’re way cheaper.”
Several offerings have no fees: Now Read This, a partnership between the New York Times and PBS Newshour, announces a monthly book pick that “helps us make sense of the world we’re living in – fiction, history, memoir and more.” Membership includes online discussion groups, a private Facebook group, and notes from the author.
The Perks of Being a Book Addict is a Goodreads group with reading challenges, promo threads for authors, giveaways and blogs. There’s even a Silent Book Club, which invites introverts to bring a book, a beverage and settle in for two and a half hours of silent reading.
Literati recently added new clubs, including Cheryl Strayed’s Wild Reads, Susan Orlean’s Private Collection, Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club and Malala Yousafzai’s Fearless. A two-tier membership offers readers flexibility in the monthly fee and the depth of their involvement.
For those not interested or needing curatorial assistance, the books coverage in the Playlist section of the Southern California News Group’s daily newspapers, provides plenty of suggestions – not to mention online resources like Lit Hub and Alta Journal. A synopsis and/or review can be acquired with a quick Google search. Even Amazon recommends books based on my past Kindle purchases, and sometimes they’re spot on. And always, there are my trusted IRL friends, who supply me with an endless list of “must-read”
During the Year of COVID-19, online book gatherings became a key component of my survival arsenal. Free book talks and Q&A with writers were sponsored by bookstores and other groups. My favorites were those hosted by the literary nonprofit Writing by Writers, not to mention Bookish by SCNG (formerly the OC Register Book Club), which hosts community discussions about books, authors and the literary life of SoCal. (And, no, I’m not just saying that because I’m writing this for SCNG – I swear!) Its Zoom author interviews have introduced local writers to a broader audience and given locals access to celebrity authors. (There’s even a Facebook group for online conversation.) Gratefully, they have continued – and they’re free!
I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I feel the cost of a club is justified or warranted. After researching online book clubs, my inbox is now flooded with notices promising that I can quit a club at any time or take a break for months on end and not be charged. I suppose I’m wary of anything charging me money.
I admit a curiosity about writers I admire selecting books for me, based on their taste. And the idea of being considered part of group of “visionaries” flatters the ego. But at the moment, my stacks of “need to read” overwhelm the hours I can commit to the page.
Rather than a distant entity, it’s my local bookstore that I prefer to support. I need their doors to stay open for me and my community. They contain entire worlds of publishing, not one genre or an opinion of what I should read. I need to wander the aisles. I need to talk shop and new releases with the owner and staff. And oftentimes, I need to let caprice guide me to discover a new author, a new subject or an enticing book cover to carry home and cherish.