Mark Zuckerberg is having quite the productive 2015. This weekend, he launched a new Facebook community, “A Year of Books.” The announcement, posted on Jan. 2, reads:
We will read a new book every two weeks and discuss it here. Our books will emphasize learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies. Suggestions for new books to read are always welcome. We ask that everyone who participates read the books and we will moderate the discussions and group membership to keep us on topic.
The first pick is The End of Power by Moisés Naím. He’s really happy about it:
Mark Zuckerberg has launched a book club in Facebook. He is starting with The End Of Power. Thank you Mark! Click–> https://t.co/wWAxVh60is
— Moisés Naím (@MoisesNaim) January 3, 2015
So far, the best thing about “A Year of Books” is that the cover image and the profile picture are of these old-timey bookshelves, as if to make you feel like you’re not just scrolling through the friction-free internet but rather are lost in the stacks of the Restricted Section in the Hogwarts Library. Zuckerberg has invited all 30 million of his followers to join; over 137,000 people have already liked the page.
Sure, there are a few caveats here: in the highly unlikely event of full participation, 130,000+ people is way too many people for a book club; have you ever been to a book club with more than, say, 12? It’s nothing but wine, cheese, and chaos.
Zuckerberg doesn’t have that Oprah-charisma, nor is it clear that his stamp of approval is what readers need to get on board with any particular book. (Especially considering the typical book club participant: women read significantly more books than men do, and the gender gap is at its widest when it comes to consumers of fiction.)
But who are we to argue against something as benign and potentially great as a massive book club? Brick-and-mortar book clubs are having something of a heyday; approximately five million Americans identify as members of one, though exact numbers are hard to come by. But the National Endowment for the Arts reports that the percentage of adults reading literature — which they define as “novels, short stories, poetry or plays” — has declined since 2008.
Oprah’s Book Club spent 15 years turning so-so sellers into blockbusters; one Fordham professor found that “Oprah editions” of the 70 titles Winfrey chose sold 55 million copies. But the Oprah Effect can’t be counted upon to move that merchandise anymore; Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 relaunched in 2012 with a single selection, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and then disappeared into the no man’s land of Oprah’s barely-watched TV network. There is actually a void to fill here — a mainstream microphone for otherwise overlooked or under-appreciated texts — and maybe Facebook can fill it. There are plenty of online forums for people who love books (MashableReads and Goodreads, to name just two) but for sheer reach alone, there’s no network quite like Facebook.
Maybe this will be like most Facebook message boards where conversations quickly devolve into ALL CAPS SCREAMING MATCHES ABOUT NOTHING. Maybe without the one thing that, let’s be real, lures many a would-be non-participant into a book club — the snacks — “A Year In Books” will fall apart by February, like so much fine New Year’s resolutions. Or maybe “A Year of Books” will foster interesting and thought-provoking dialogue about the world. A reader can hope.