September 24, 2019
The prestige-mini-series-option-industrial complex
by Athena Bryan
Wooooooo wooooooo WOOOOO woo woo woo woo woooooooo (that’s an onomatopoeia of the tune of the theme music of Big Little Lies, to get you in the mood).
View this post on Instagram
The September ’19 pick for #ReesesBookClub is… #TheSecretsWeKept by @laraprescott! 📚Set during the Cold War, #TheSecretsWeKept tells the story of the secretaries turned spies who are tasked with smuggling ‘Doctor Zhivago’ out of the USSR and into the hands of Russian citizens. You’ll get to know Sally Forrester, a veteran spy, and Irina, a total newbie. Fans of historical fiction, thrillers, romance, and the power of books to spark change will devour our September pick! Click the 🔗in bio to pre-order #TheSecretsWeKept on @audible before it hits shelves on September 3rd! 🎧
Thus we open this hard-hitting blog post about the prestige-mini-series-option-industrial complex, or in other words, Reese Witherspoon’s book club.
Witherspoon launched her book club in 2017 in partnership with her production company, Hello Sunshine. Its format, much like the legendary Oprah’s Book Club, is to regularly select a book, and adorn the lucky titles with “a cheery yellow book club sticker,” as Constance Grady put it in Vox. What follows is a bump in sales that safely takes all of her pick’s sales over the 10,000 mark (read: good sales).
Perhaps the most astronomical success so far of the book club has been their selection of Where the Crawdad Sings, which has moved over 1.4 million copies since Witherspoon plucked it out of relative obscurity. Hello Sunshine is also set to produce the film adaptation, which is still in early development at this time.
The book club’s first selection, back when Witherspoon was only “informally” selecting books in 2015, was Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, which has since moved upwards of 700k copies across all formats according to BookScan. It was already optioned for film rights by Hello Sunshine at the time of her recommendation, according to Vox.
Hello Sunshine had been steadily producing a string of blockbuster book adaptations including Wild, Gone Girl, and the HBO series Big Little Lies, before the official partnership with the book club launched. And as we’ve previously blogged, Hello Sunshine also has a mini-series for Little Fires Everywhere in the works.
Conspiracy? Well … no, not really. But we’d argue that the over- (and almost always mis-) used “industrial-complex” formulation really actually does make sense in this context.
Witherspoon has managed to establish credibility as a curator of a specific genre of women’s, book-club fiction, then option or produce their adaptations, ushering in a fat payday for the original publishers and a sweet film or TV deal that promises a certain amount of built-in success on the strength of the audience’s knowledge of the source material, which was built by said book club recommendation.
What a smart scheme… We can’t believe that nobody else had thought of it yet. We are blogging this today because Vox has bestowed Witherspoon with the title of “high priestess of book clubs.” And Witherspoon seems ready for the mantle, or diadem, or whatever high priestesses wear. These days, she likes to smugly assert that she, a woman, reads (reads!) with the occasional reference to her Legally Blonde character, Elle Woods. But to us, this has Tracy Flick written all over it. Pick Flick, indeed…
Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.