From Reese Witherspoon to SJP, the rise of celeb book clubs

Celebrities are following in Oprah Winfrey’s footsteps with a book club.

  • Wednesday, August 15, 2018 1:20pm
  • Life

By Alicia Rancilio / Associated Press

NEW YORK — Jimmy Fallon remembers a summer a few years back when it seemed everybody was reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.

“Everyone had that book. If we had people over, or went on vacation poolside, people had that book wrinkled and curled up. I read it with my wife and we read every chapter together and we’d be like, ‘(Gasps) This is great!’ It was the world’s smallest book club,” he laughed.

This summer, Fallon decided to expand his book club of two to include his late-night audience. In June, he launched “Tonight Show Summer Reads.” Fallon presented five book options on his show and instructed viewers to go online and vote for their favorite. The results exceeded his expectations with 140,000 votes. The winner was “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi.

“Any way to engage the audience and to do stuff with them is always more fun,” said Fallon.

He also enthusiastically tracked how the books performed on Amazon after a mention on his show. The company confirms he had an impact.

“When a celebrity decides to get behind a book, we generally see a lift in sales,” said Chris Schluep, an editor at Amazon. “For instance, ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ has been selling well this year. But the week after Jimmy Fallon selected it as the first ‘Tonight Show’ book club selection, it sold nearly three times the number of print, Kindle and Audible books that it had sold in the previous week at Amazon.”

Fallon isn’t the only celebrity to follow in Oprah Winfrey’s footsteps with a book club. Reese Witherspoon has made such a success of her monthly literary picks that publishers are now putting Reese stickers on her selections.

“It’s fantastic and we have a great experience,” said Witherspoon, who has bought the rights to many of her picks to adapt for film or television. One of her selections, “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, will be a limited series on Hulu starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

The Oscar winner has also partnered with the audio producer-distributor Audible on audio recordings of her selections.

Emma Roberts has turned her lifelong love of reading into a pet project she calls Belletrist. A website and social media for Belletrist celebrate all things books. Each month they feature a new book to read and even an independent book store to check out.

“Belletrist is my baby,” said Roberts, who runs the site with her partner, Karah Preiss.

She says there is “no criteria” for books she features because her personal taste is so varied, but she does tend to learn toward highlighting female authors.

She wants to create a community for Belletrist followers to share thoughts and ideas about what they read.

Sarah Jessica Parker is so committed to reading that she’s partnered with the American Library Association to share her own suggestions. The goal, she says, is to not only get people to read but to also support their own local libraries.

When Parker was approached by publishing house Hogarth to start her own imprint, her respect for writing initially made her think it wasn’t a good idea.

“I didn’t think I had the experience and had too much respect for people who’ve been in publishing for a long time,” she said. But Parker then thought it could be a way to help champion works in the literary fiction space which isn’t always as commercial. The first novel printed by SJP for Hogarth, “A Place for Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza, is a New York Times best-seller.

Parker said she also enjoys posting about books on social media because it’s a safe topic.

Books are the “one thing I can talk about on Instagram that’s not controversial,” she said. “Everybody wants to talk about their favorite books or their feelings about books and share title recommendations. I mean, it’s a huge exchange of information and enthusiasm and it’s really the easiest part of my relationship with social media certainly.”

Like Witherspoon, Roberts and Parker are open to the idea of giving a book they recommend the Hollywood treatment.

“One of the most exciting things about reading is thinking about how to bring it to life. I’m always imagining the show or the movie. We’re in an exciting time,” said Roberts.

Parker stresses her goal first and foremost is to help the author.

“I’m in it really for the genuinely purest of intentions — to introduce new authors to readers. And if the opportunity exists for there to be a discussion about any television or film rights, I would certainly enter in to those conversations. But that isn’t in any way my incentive.”

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