National Book Club Launched Online By Booksellers

In response to Amazon's new bricks-and-mortar bookstore, booksellers from around the U.S. launched the country's first National Book Club on Thursday. Bookish merchandiser Litographs aims to bring together readers from across the country by using the power of the Internet. The National Book Club is the result of a partnership between the retailer and four independent bookstores: Harvard Book Store of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Green Apple Books of San Francisco; The Elliot Bay Book Company of Seattle; and Left Bank Books of St. Louis, Missouri.

Although booksellers haven't seemed intimidated by Amazon Books, the retailer's location in Seattle's U Village ruffled a few feathers. Also concerning are Amazon's algorithms, which allow its store to stock only those titles that will sell in a timely manner. While this may seem like good news for shoppers interested in the New York Times bestseller lists, it actually spells bad news for indie booksellers, readers, and even writers.

Why? Because Amazon Books could very well steal bestseller sales away from Seattle's independent bookstores. Those sales may be all that's keeping some indies afloat, meaning readers who buy the latest hardcovers from Amazon could see the doors of their favorite independents close. Also, because Amazon's algorithms make it difficult for new writers to stand out from the pack and land on store shelves, writing a breakout novel — and discovering new authors — could become more difficult than ever in the age of Amazon Books.

The National Book Club pushes back against Amazon Books' encroachment simply by being the best of what indie booksellers have to offer. Most book lovers will tell you that the best thing about an independent bookstore is its carefully curated collection. It brings that quality to readers around the country by having each of its four partner bookstores select one book for discussion each season.

The selections for the National Book Club's inaugural season are:

  • Speak by Louisa Hall, chosen by Harvard Book Store;
  • Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, chosen by Left Bank Books
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, chosen by The Elliot Bay Book Company
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, chosen by Green Apple Books

Litographs lists each of the National Book Club selections with a shelf talker: an index-card-sized, handwritten note detailing what, exactly, the book is about. Participants choose one of the four to read, and receive a small, real-life gift based on their selection. They'll also receive 20 percent off the purchase of their book from Harvard Book Store. After reading, book club members are asked to write and submit their own shelf talkers.

In the U.S., the average adult reads just four books each year. By participating in the National Book Club, the average reader can make the most of her year by choosing books based on the group's seasonal selections. Litographs says it's "not trying to reinvent the way books are discovered," but is "simply helping readers cut through the noise by providing thoughtful recommendations from the people most qualified to give them."

Litographs has also taken readers' hectic lives into account. Instead of monthly deadlines, the group offers "a low-pressure environment where members can read these books on their own time and come back to share their thoughts and favorite passages at any point in the future." This, of course, leads to ongoing discussion about book club selections.

Litographs centers more on reading as a shared experience. With its focus on shelf talkers, the National Book Club revives the sense of community that surrounds indie booksellers. For people living in book deserts — that is, those areas without widespread access to reading material — Litographs' project brings communion over books to previously untouched individuals and groups.

The best thing about the National Book Club is that it is open to anyone. There are no dues to be paid, and there is no rule saying you must purchase a book in order to participate. If you don't have a budget for books at the moment, you can go check out a library copy of your selection, no problem.

Readers who want to start their own book clubs would be wise to pick their titles from the National Book Club's list. No one likes reading a dud, and one bad reading choice can break down your book club before it even gets its start.

The National Book Club is really what you make of it. There are no meetings to endure, and you can socialize as little or as much as you like with other readers. You get the experience you want, no strings attached.

And as for Amazon? Litographs isn't worried about that giant, according to its press information:

Even the recent opening of Amazon’s new brick and mortar effort — driven by the “troves of data it generates from shopping patterns on its website” — reaffirms that numbers can tell a story about the cold, transactional side of choosing a book, but there is no substitute for the warmth and experience offered by a seasoned bookseller more concerned about what you’ll enjoy than the easiest sell.

Images:; Litographs Book Club