Book clubs, virtual or otherwise, are great in theory, but there’s always work involved for participants. Sometimes getting around to acquiring the book can take more time than actually reading it.
And in celebrity book clubs, like those run by Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, there isn’t a lot of discussion or debate online, if any, with the celebrity host. But Literati wants to give readers the virtual celebrity book club experience with the ease of home delivery and an app that will encourage discourse with a detailed discussion board.
A subscription-based monthly book service for children, Literati is expanding to monthly book clubs for adults that are curated by notable figures, known as “luminaries.” The curators include Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA star Steph Curry,best-selling writer Susan Orlean, entrepreneur Richard Branson and scholars at the Joseph Campbell Foundation.
There will be several discussion boards in each club depending where you are in the book. Through an app, each luminary will check in a few times a month to join and participate in the discussion with their readers.
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Yousafzai, who recently turned 23 and is often known as just Malala, has a lot on her plate. A recent graduate from the University of Oxford, she continues to work as an activist and as co-founder of the Malala Fund, an international nonprofit that champions girls’ rights to “free, safe, quality education.”. Her most recent book, “We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World,” was published in 2019.
Reading ‘helps you develop, it helps you grow’
With so much going on, why take on curating a book club?
In addition to engaging young people and exploring new books, Yousafzai tells USA TODAY she believes there is also an educational purpose. And education is dear to the activist’s heart.
With reading “we learn so much about the past, about different cultures, traditions and literally about the world that we are living in,” says Yousafzai. “Sometimes we can be quite ignorant about ourselves, about our society and about the ones that we have around us, and reading allows you to make yourself aware of that. It helps you develop, it helps you grow, and it helps you to become a better citizen.”
Officially launching Oct. 1, the themed book clubs are $25 a for a month-to-month subscription or $20 per month with annual subscription. Members will receive a print copy of the book each month along with a note and special packaging. The club will also include an iOS app, currently in beta, that will connect members with their club’s host and be a platform for discourse. It’s that promise of discourse that Yousafzai is most looking forward to. After all, sometimes the best part of reading a book is the discussion that follows it.
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“What other people think about (a book) is an even more fascinating experience. So I’m looking forward to having discussions with the readers,” says Yousafzai. “Discussion really is a healthy process of ensuring that we exchange ideas; it actually enlightens our minds and enlightens our society. So I’m really excited about that part.”
Her club is aptly themed “Fearless.” Yousafzai actively fought for her and other girls’ right to an education after the Taliban closed and destroyed many schools and banned girls from attending in her native Pakistan. At the age of 15 she survived a Taliban assassination attempt meant to silence her.
According to the site, Fearless will feature “the voices of authors the world too often neglects.” That means a lot of first-time writers and young-women writers, especially women of color.
“There are a lot of young women who have only read books by white men from the West. And oftentimes they assume that this (literature) is not their field, this (literature) is not their area. And that they are often afraid to share their ideas and their cares.”
So what will the book clubs read and discuss?
The club’s inaugural title is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. Published in 2000, Smith wrote the novel while still a university student at the University of Cambridge. The novel tells the story of two soldiers in WWII, the very English Archie Jones and the very Bengali Samad Iqbal, who become unlikely friends.
“(Smith) wrote an incredible, detailed story of family belonging to different cultures, living through generations. It is really fascinating. It is amusing. It is engaging,” says Yousafzai, noting it’s important to support books by young, female authors because “they are inspiring other women and other young women, especially women of color to come out and share their stories. And that’s how we can diversify the literature.”
“We believe in the power of books to inspire lifelong learning and spark a deeper conversation,” said Jessica Ewing, Literati’s CEO and founder in a statement. “Our luminaries are looking to provide something uniquely valuable to the world. Whether it’s surfacing underdog writers, highlighting new female voices, or sharing beloved books from their private collection, their selections carry a deeply personal meaning.”
What are the other luminaries reading? Also kicking off on Oct. 1, Steph Curry’s club Underrated will be reading “The Other Wes Moore,” by Wes Moore; Susan Orlean’s club Private Collection will be reading “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill; Richard Branson’s club Reading with Richard will be reading “Mandela’s Way” by Richard Stengel; and the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s club Myth & Meaning will be reading “The Wayfinders” by Wade Davis.
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Yousafzai, aside from curating future selections, says she won’t be taking on too much more for the time being. After recently finishing her senior year of college and graduating during a global pandemic, she has plans to take a moment for herself as she thinks most recent grads should, especially amid the pandemic.
“My whole life has been based in my room, in my bedroom at home … and it has been quite difficult, living together with two younger brothers and a family. And it can be exhausting sometimes.”
But the activist tries to keep a positive outlook.
“What we need right now is hope, is optimism. And, and what we need is to continue our hard work for a better world.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Richard Branson hosting new book clubs