Virtual Book Clubs

Peter is not really a book club type.

Book clubs, where people read a common book and then meet to discuss it, have been around for a very long time. There was a plethora of them in England in the 19th century and I'm sure they existed in almost every reading country. I know of a few in my area that meet at libraries. But I have also been seeing a kind of virtual book club scene developing online.

Remember Oprah's Book Club on her network TV show? It had tremendous book-selling power. her selection could send a book right to the best-seller list. Good for publishers and authors and good if it got more people to read and think about their reading. I thought her club ended with the show, but it still ives online at, but when I looked at it it was a bit too busy with ads for Waitress on Broadway and how to self-publish your book, a popup for her magazine, and links to articles on the web about “crepey skin” and “7 foods that cause gray hair” and “9 ways that coconut oil will change your life.” Very commercial and without any book talk.

Other celebrities have taken to suggesting books for us to read. Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and Emma Thompson Watson on Twitter and Reese Witherspoon on Instagram are all letting us know what to read via social media. Oscar-winner Brie Larson recommended Slade House by David Mitchell to her 240,000 followers at that time. Emma Watson, one from Hogwarts, now a feminist, recommended a non-fiction title, My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem to her 20.8 million followers on Twitter. I saw that Reese Witherspoon, using Instagram, recommended Opening Belle, a novel by Maureen Sherry.

Is it a "book club" if all you do is suggest something to read? No. Do we trust that celebrities are recommending books they read and really enjoyed or do we suspect that this is just marketing? I'm half and half on that.

I had seen last December that Mark Zuckerberg recommended reading The Beginning of Infinity to his 48.9 million followers, so I borrowed the book from the library. It's not a new book (published in 2011) so I don't think it was a new book promotional kind of suggestion. Subtitled "Explanations that Transform the World," it is a science book for the general public by physicist David Deutsch.

Deutsch looks at the enlightenment of the 18th century as a beginning of an infinite sequence of knowledge creation. He defines knowledge as information that is proven and allows for some real process that is physically possible to be performed. That time that we call "The Enlightenment" provided the conditions for knowledge creation. It disrupted the earlier static societies that stifled creativity and did not encourage free and open debate. It's that a similar time had not previously existed. Earlier we had the Renaissance in Florence and Plato's Academy in Golden age Athens, and things got going, but then they were met with resistance to change.

I thought the book was pretty interesting, but I'll admit that I skipped and skimmed. After all, there was no test or book club I had to answer to later.

Zuckerberg never really promoted it as a book club, although Facebook - or some new online platform of their creation - certainly would have allowed for such a thing to occur. It was his New Year's Resolution for 2015 to read one book every two weeks. he chose books which "emphasize learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies."

Actress Reese Witherspoon seems to be a real reader and she has already brought two of her favorite reads — Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen. (I read both. Disliked the first, really liked the second - true for the books and the movie versions.)

Am I a bit suspect that the books she picks are all part of a clever and long range film marketing strategy? Yes, but I really like Reese the actress, so I accept that this is the plan.

In the works are adaptations of Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, Garth Callaghan‘s memoir Napkin Notes: Make Lunch Meaningful, Life Will Follow. Read now and the movie will follow.

Then there is actor James Franco with 5 million followers on Instagram. He, who has all kinds of degrees now in literature, seems to recommend books off the class syllabi. They are good reads and books I would recommend too - like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. And both already have film versions, so I don't see any film crossover deals. Unless he gets a publisher kickback, this seems well-intentioned.

He has a book club page on but it just shows some book jackets, so it is a pretty lousy club to belong to if you're looking for discussion. But, that site allows you to discuss any book on GoodReads and leave reviews and recommendations, so it is a site I use and would recommend.

Do you participate in a real-world or virtual book club? Have any recommendations about online book clubs or books? Comment below. But this isn't a book club.

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