May 20, 2019
The shifting culture of book clubs
by Alex Primiani
What one does in their spare time is always a personal choice, of course, but is it really a surprise that the after-work book club is finding more and more appeal within members of certain industries? For the New York Times, Henry Alford writes on the rise of the “themed book club.”
Alford profiles a few groups that meet, presumably, in New York: one that’s devoted more to schmoozing and connecting than the subject matter at hand, one focused primarily on “political junkies” and the policies of the day. Others seem to be opportunities for book people to delve deeper into their own industry, and share the intricacies of publishing with members who might not be so privy.
One of the book clubs, Yahdon Israel‘s Literaryswag group, is open to the public and meets at a vintage clothing shop in Boerum Hill. Israel is the former editor of Brooklyn Magazine, currently teaching at City College and the New School, and perhaps better known as the man behind the bookstagram Literaryswag, made famous by his short-clip interviews with writers discussing their favorite books and fashion stylists.
For Israel, the content doesn’t take center stage at these meetings, instead “he hopes club members will make friends with one another, or talk about the book later.”
Alford continues, “To up the ante, Israel selects books you don’t have to have read in order to join the conversation because the subject matter is so rich (a recent pick: Margo Jefferson’s book “On Michael Jackson”), and he anoints at each session the Swaggiest Member (best-dressed) and the Littest Person (most thoughtful).”
Others hope their club will give them more insider access to the industry, with call-ins and invitations sent out to the writers of the selected book to join.
For the public policy-themed book club co-founded by the senior vice president and head of communications at SoftBank, Gary Ginsberg, it seemed vital to get Robert Caro to their upcoming Working (Caro’s latest book published this past April) night. The book club had, after all, discussed three Caro books by that point.
Of course, if you’re planning on inviting the author of the book in discussion you want to be as prepared as possible. Alford spoke with Ginsburg, who had this to say: “It was terrifying. He’s the one historian we all hold in awe. You want to get it right. You want to make sure the quality of the conversation is up to his level of writing and investigation.” Guess it was stimulating enough conversation, Caro did end up staying.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.