If you're wondering who the two biggest literary influencers of the year are, look no further than Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey. According to Publisher's Weekly, the two bestselling books of 2019 so far are Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming. As it so happens, both were the selections of popular celeb-fronted book clubs: Where the Crawdads Sing was a pick for Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club, and Becoming was a pick for Oprah's Book Club. (OK, Michelle Obama also had a lot of name recognition when her book came out, but the Oprah recommendation certainly didn't hurt.)
Where the Crawdads Sing, currently 2019's number one bestseller, was first published in Aug. 2018, and has reportedly sold 1.1. million copies since then. The book follows Kya, a girl who has survived for years alone in a marsh on the North Carolina coast. After a handsome young man is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya, who they call the "Marsh Girl." But when the townspeople become intrigued by her story, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.
The book fits right in with Witherspoon's other picks for Hello Sunshine Book Club, which the actress and producer first launched back in June 2017. While her choices have run the gamut from thrillers (Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman) to romances (The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory) and have included both under-the-radar picks (The Cactus by Sarah Haywood) and highly-anticipated releases (Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid), Witherspoon has committed to choosing books written by a diverse group of women.
Oprah's Book Club, on the other hand, almost needs no introduction. First launched in 1996 as a segment on Oprah's groundbreaking talk show, the club's widespread popularity made it the perfect platform for obscure titles to become bestsellers, increasing sales by as much as several million copies for some books. The first iteration of the club (which ran for 15 years and included 70 books) ended in 2011, but it was relaunched as Oprah's Book Club 2.0 in 2012, with the first pick being Cheryl Strayed's Wild.
Winfrey's book club celebrates writers from marginalized groups, and includes everything from hard-hitting memoirs (The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton) to powerful literary fiction (An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.) While former First Lady Michelle Obama's debut memoir — which follows her journey from childhood to the White House — was always destined to make a splash on the book charts, Winfrey's additional publicity for the book only aided its success. It has sold over 888 thousand copies this year — and a staggering 4.5 million copies since its release in Nov. 2018, putting it on track to possibly becoming the bestselling memoir of all time.
While celebrity book clubs are not a new phenomenon, they have seen an uptick in recent years, with everyone from actress Emma Watson (with her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf) to actress Emma Roberts (with her popular group Belletrist) joining in on the fun. But whether people are more inclined to pick up a book with their favorite celebrity's stamp of approval on it or not, I think we can all agree that seeing more women on the bestseller list is a positive trend.