By Jocelyn McClurg,
April 25, 2016
The hottest Hollywood accessory of the moment is just the right size to fit snugly in a Hermès Birkin bag or a Céline Luggage tote: a book.
Once upon a time, Oprah Winfrey told America what to read. But 20 years after Oprah launched her wildly successful book club, a new generation of celebrities is using social media to share the books they love and help create best sellers.
Reese Witherspoon, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Emma Roberts, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kimberly Williams-Paisley are among the stars who use Instagram and Twitter to blast “book selfies” — cellphone snaps of the (usually physical) books they’re reading — accompanied by their own enthusiastic mini-reviews. (“#OpeningBelle is a smart, biting and honest peek into what it means to be a woman on Wall Street,” Witherspoon recently raved under the hashtag #RWBookClub.)
Witherspoon is the undisputed queen of the celebrity bookworm trend, but she’s not alone.
► The actress, who earned an Oscar nomination for her starring role in the film version of Cheryl Strayed’s hit memoir Wild, has plugged books including Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Other Witherspoon recommendations, including Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry, are books she’s so wild about that she has acquired them for film or TV for her production company, Pacific Standard.
►Girls star Dunham, 29, who wrote her own best seller, Not That Kind of Girl, makes reading suggestions every “Lit Thursday” on Lenny, her online newsletter and website for young women. Lenny has become such a force that publishing giant Random House just signed Dunham and Girls executive producer Jenni Konner to create a book imprint called Lenny.
►Watson, better known as Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, launched a feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, in January through the Goodreads website. The 26-year-old’s first pick was My Life on the Road by 82-year-old feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
|Actress Emma Watson has launched an online book club|
Why are stars who might otherwise covet their privacy hopping aboard the “sharing” train when it comes to books?
“I’ve been a reader for years. I’ve always loved book clubs; I’ve always loved sharing books and talking about books, going into bookstores and browsing. And to me, doing it online is just a bigger way to do that,” says Williams-Paisley, 44, calling from the road where she’s promoting her new memoir, Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again, about her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.
The online culture, she says, is “a great way to connect with fans” and fellow book lovers.
“I love the comments from people that I get when I’ve posted about a book, and then I love the recommendations that say, ‘Oh, if you liked this one then you’ve got to try these five,’” says the actress, who has posted her love for such titles as Euphoria by Lily King and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
Williams-Paisley also follows what other stars are reading, including Witherspoon (“I love Reese"), and says, “I’ve read Emma Watson’s recommendations, too.” And she likes posting about children’s literature because “I love reading to my children.” (She has two sons, ages 9 and 7, with her husband, country star Brad Paisley.)
Celebrities who share what's on their reading list usually do so in an informal manner that creates an intimate online conversation. “What are y’all reading??” Southerner Reese will often ask, to a barrage of fan responses.
For authors who are beneficiaries of star tweets, it’s a whole new level of attention, and often sales.
|Reese Witherspoon is big fan of the novel 'Big Little|
“A celebrity endorsement is a wondrous thing for any author struggling to get the word out about their work,” says Moriarty, author of the USA TODAY best sellers The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies.
Witherspoon, 40, first posted a photo of Big Little Lies in August 2014, just a few days after the hardcover publication, and now she’s co-starring in and co-producing (with Nicole Kidman) an HBO adaptation of the darkly comic novel about kindergarten moms and a possible murder.
“I've been hugely grateful for all the times Reese has mentioned Big Little Lies on social media,” Moriarty says. “I'm not much good at social media myself, so it's fantastic to have someone with Reese’s celebrity status mentioning the book to her legions of fans.”
Witherspoon also gave a boost last year to Luckiest Girl Alive when she posted about Jessica Knoll’s debut thriller (a “non-stop nail-biting crazy train”) and mentioned she had acquired film rights.
Richard Rhorer, associate publisher of Simon & Schuster, says buzz already was building for the book, but “when Reese posted on Instagram, it just took (pre-orders on Amazon) into the stratosphere. For a debut novel from someone that no one had really heard of yet, that’s kind of remarkable.” Luckiest Girl Alive landed at an impressive No. 12 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list on May 21, 2015, and has sold more than 450,000 copies.
The novel, about a glamorous magazine writer hiding secrets from her past, returned to the spotlight last month, when Knoll wrote an essay for the Lenny letter revealing that the gang rape in the novel was drawn from her own experience. The newsletter piece was timed to Knoll’s book tour for the paperback edition and the inevitable questions she knew she would face at events. Luckiest Girl Alive returned to USA TODAY’s top 50 after the essay appeared.
|Lena Dunham gets her own publishing imprint,Lenny|
It demonstrated Lenny’s reach, and just a few weeks ago, Random House announced the launch of the Lenny book imprint for late 2017. The Lenny newsletter, says Random House editor in chief Andy Ward, “is attracting all kinds of exciting new voices,” and the book imprint aims to do the same in a “bigger format,” mostly with female writers. Dunham, he says, “is committed to quality.”
Of course not all books that stars rave about become best sellers, although publishers love it when their titles are “discovered” by famous names.
Television producer Jennifer Konner, left, and 'Girls'
Television producer Jennifer Konner, left, and 'Girls' star Lena Dunham are teaming up on a book imprint. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris)
These celebrities, and they’re mainly women, are helping fill a gap left by Winfrey, who under her 2.0 club recommends far fewer books than her original club did, when she had a talk show and a huge audience.
“Social media is more diffuse,” says Simon & Schuster’s Rhorer. “With Oprah, you had millions of people tuning in on a particular day of the week and a particular hour of the day, and when she would say ‘Go buy Wally Lamb’s new book,’ you had all those millions of people reacting in the same moment. But with somebody who has as large a following as Reese Witherspoon, the impact can be significant.
"And it’s great.”
Source: USA Today