Given how invested people are in just about anything a celebrity does – from their diets to beauty routines to dating lives – it's sort of delicious when they offer a piece of their mind, free of charge. It's why we're fans of The Row's monthly playlists or why we still read Nick Cave's Red Hand Files. The same applies to celebrity book clubs, even if I'm yet to actually join one.
Maybe you have? Celebrity book clubs have been growing on the periphery for decades. Oprah Winfrey founded hers in the late 90s, Florence Welch in 2012, and Emma Watson began hiding intersectional feminist books on the NYC subway and London Underground in 2016. Reese Witherspoon has built an empire off of her own reading habits; those little yellow stickers of approval can be found in every bookstore, and the actor has adapted female-centric novels like Daisy Jones & The Six, Little Fires Everywhere, Big Little Lies for the screen.
But recently there's been an uptick in models, musicians and actors pivoting from their day jobs to host a book club of their own. Kaia Gerber launched her own book club as a way of staying connected in lockdown. Now, the model announces a new book every other week, accompanied by a movie still and author interview. Phoebe Bridgers told RUSSH how boygenius – the band she fronts with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – have assembled their own informal book club. Most notably, Dua Lipa introduced her book club via platform Service95 after months of dropping sunbathing selfies with whatever she was reading in frame.
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The phenomenon reminds me of another trend: hot girl books. Yes, it has a crap title but it underscores the zeitgeist's current obsession with the paperback. Particularly stories that focus on queer folk, women and people of colour. You've noticed it yourself, surely? Instagram feels like one giant book club. Kendall Jenner is stepping out clutching Chelsea Hodgson and Eve Babitz. Jill Kortleve posted a carousel of her holidaying in Portugal with Deborah Levy and Annie Lord. Suki Waterhouse likes to curl up in bed with Ottessa Moshfegh. According to social media, knowledge is an accessory and these hot girls wear it well.
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Hot girl authors are easy to summon, they have a specific vibe. Joan Didion is essential, grouped alongside Raven Leilani and Elena Ferrante, Rachel Cusk and Patti Smith, Zadie Smith and Jia Tolentino. All critically acclaimed, all standup intellectuals.
But are all these book clubs just a celebrity's attempt at being relatable? A bid at revealing interiority and depth? A cynical read might see it that way. There is something inherently performative about posing with a paperback on social media – I'm guilty of this too. We want to be seen as a person who reads, rather than just reading. Posting our reading material is just another way of curating our online personas. We leverage the ideas inside the cover in hope that they speak to our nature, without ever having to open our mouths. Remember the Sally Rooney Beautiful World, Where Are You merch? No one was wearing those yellow bucket hats because they actually liked them, but instead for what they represented.
But sharing, and embodying, books on social media can be just that. A willingness to start a conversation, spark community, bounce ideas. American rapper, Noname, uses her book club to spotlight writers of colour, while also sending the bimonthly picks to prisons across the US in the hope of prompting education and liberation. The initiative has seen more than 21,000 titles reach incarcerated peoples to date.
Famous book clubs also help sell more books, pure and simple. Both Oprah and Reese Witherspoon taught us that much. The same can be said of BookTok, which ignited renewed interest in Donna Tartt and Colleen Hoover. Publishers are actively trying to influence trends on BookTok by scouting for self-published authors, thus creating space for new voices to break through into a notoriously closed-off industry.
I have this memory of my year seven English teacher applauding the Twilight series, because "anything that encourages people to read is a good thing". There is a level of empathy required to read a book. If we can extend empathy toward all the messy female heroines or say, a queer mountain lion, who's to say we can't flex that muscle when it comes to people we orbit? A more informed and empathetic world is exactly what we need right now. If all it takes is Dua Lipa laying beachside with Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, then so be it. Sign us up.