News & Politics

Move over Book-of-the-Month: New book club courts liberals

Lefty book club step forward in progressive infrastructure-building.
A progressive fundraiser is creating a new progressive book club, challenging the 44-year hegemony of the Conservative Book Club:
The brainchild of Elizabeth Wagley, a former fund-raiser and communications adviser for nonprofit groups including Doctors of the World, the Progressive Book Club is trying to update the paradigm of such familiar institutions as the Book-of-the-Month Club, as well as the 44-year-old Conservative Book Club.
Ms. Wagley said that she believed the new book club would fill a void for progressively minded readers. “The right has always understood the power of ideas, the power of books as legitimizers of ideas,” she said. “I see the opportunity with the book-club structure to create a powerful tool to showcase the ideas of the left.”
As with a classic book club, members of the new club will be offered a slate of books each month, reviewed and chosen by a panel that includes the novelists Michael Chabon, Erica Jong and Barbara Kingsolver; John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine; and Todd Gitlin, the author and a journalism and sociology professor at Columbia University.
The first lead selection is “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker” by Steven Greenhouse, a reporter at The New York Times. Other offerings for June include “Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy” by Jeffrey Feldman, and “Mudbound,” a debut novel by Hillary Jordan. The club will also offer about 200 older titles like “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. [NYT]
On the left, we talk a lot about infrastructure. It's nice to see someone actually getting out and creating some. A national commercial book club is a brilliant marketing strategy for progressive ideas, both wholesale and retail. Obviously, it's an opportunity to get people together to discuss progressive politics. Equally importantly, if the concept takes off, the club will be a powerful marketing tool for progressive book titles. We all know what an Oprah club selection can do for book sales.

The conservatives understood early on that message dissemination worked best when ideas were spread through coordinated institutions. In a way, it was like the vertical integration pioneered by Henry Ford: grow the rubber in a Ford-owned plantation, refine the raw materials in Ford factories, put it all together in a Ford plant, distribute through Ford dealers... That's how the right wing noise machine, too. Grow your ideas in think conservative tanks, promote them through conservative media, shop them to conservative politicians through conservative lobbyists, repeat until desired results are achieved.

The left has never been as comfortable with the kind of top-down control necessary for tight vertical integration. As a result, we've lagged in the sophistication and efficiency of our ideological infrastructure. Happily, in the internet era, progressives are finding more ways to cooperate with each other on a more informal basis to create functionally similar networks for the propagation of ideas and products. Over the past couple of years there has been an explosion of progressive political publishing, some through mainstream publishing houses and some through dedicated progressive presses. Blogs and progressive radio are already doing their part to boost the prominence of liberal authors. A national progressive book club can only be good news for the movement.
Lindsay Beyerstein a New York writer blogging at Majikthise.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018