Reese Witherspoon has always had a thing for books. What started as book recommendations on her personal Instagram grew overnight. In June 2017, Witherspoon launched her Hello Sunshine book club, which debuts a monthly pick for her social followers. Recently she has taken her love for literature to the next level — she has just written her first book, “Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits.”
Using the book as her personal microphone, she is passing down her family stories, favorite recipes and preaching Southern traditions. For Witherspoon lovers, the book offers a way to see into her personal life and get to know her beyond the characters she plays. And by the way, the book itself is beautiful. I would expect nothing less from the woman that single-handedly revived our love of pink. (Did I mention she is stepping back into the shoes of Elle Woods for “Legally Blonde 3”?)
Even with the opportunities available, reading is a declining sport. The Pew Research Center says that 24 percent of Americans have not read a book in the past year. To many a reader, this may be an incomprehensible number. But, Witherspoon has taken on the challenge to promote reading. She is not the only one, though — celebrities are embracing the book club. Actress Emma Watson started Our Shared Shelf, a feminist book club with recommendations every two months, and singer Florence Welch has Between Two Books.
In fact, 61 percent of readers in the United States say they find new books through recommendations from friends and family. With almost 800,000 followers on Witherspoon’s book club’s Instagram, she must be doing something right.
The important thing to note here is that Witherspoon is not just recommending books, she is reading them, too. She knows the ins and outs better than anyone, especially since she has a penchant for picking just the right novels to produce for film. Remember “Wild”? I was convinced I needed to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. Not to mention, she has the world waiting in anticipation for the next season of “Big Little Lies” (based on an Australian novel), expected in 2019. And it was just announced that Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine will produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” (her September 2018 book club pick) for Fox 2000.
As an avid reader myself, I decided I would devote myself and only read Reese’s Book Club books for one month (Editor’s note: Witherspoon recommends one book per month, so I went back into the archives for this task). Maybe I would learn something new and get to the bottom of why her book club is so successful. It has to be more than just what I call, the “Reese Factor.”
As the founder of Hello Sunshine, a media company geared toward celebrating women, it is clear Witherspoon appreciates a strong female lead. And is it really a surprise? She, alongside fellow female Hollywood powerhouses, launched the Time’s Up movement in early 2018 to fight sexual harassment. Witherspoon also has a track record of fighting for equal pay, even calling out E! with Debra Messing and Eva Longoria after Catt Sadler announced her departure from the network due to a gender pay gap.
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I'm so proud to be the first guest on my friend @ReeseWitherspoon's new show with @hellosunshine! Seriously y'all, nothing beats great friends, good conversation, and delicious spiced tea. Don’t you agree? You won't want to miss what we talked about! Watch my episode on #ShineOnWithReese coming July 17 to @DIRECTVNOW!
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This same appreciation is mirrored in her novel choices. Meet Heather (“Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After”), a mom desperate and determined to save her child, undiagnosed with a mysterious blood disease. Meet Maggie (“Still Lives”), a woman trying to start over after a breakup who finds herself entangled in a murder, adamant on figuring out the truth. Meet Daphne (“The Last Mrs. Parrish”), a woman everyone envies but who has a secret of her own. The list goes on. If there is one thing we can learn from Witherspoon, and her lauded characters, is that nothing is impossible. We, as women, can accomplish anything we set our minds to.
It is not just about the inspiration, though. Witherspoon’s choices give the reader a chance to learn about a world they may otherwise not be exposed to. It is not every day that we get to see into the inner workings of a museum, the transplant ward at a hospital or New York City on Sept. 11. But, by picking up one of Witherspoon’s selections, we, as readers, are transported into worlds unknown to us. Yes, that is the typical function of a book, but these books go beyond that, aspiring to teach you something new, something you might not have known before. Until I picked up my copy of “Happiness: A Memoir,” I had never seen the insides of a transplant center, much less imagined one. Yet, once I turned the final page, I knew I had a better understanding of what others might be experiencing and the pain they go through every day.
It is clear that Witherspoon does not just want you to read, but she also wants to remind you to enjoy it. Because, reading is fun. Six of her 19 book club picks (at time of publication) are listed as mysteries or thrillers. And her picks are good. They are edge-of-your-seat, stay-up-all-night good. “Still Lives” by Maria Hummel is full of twists and turns that by the end, I was desperate to find out the truth. “The Last Mrs. Parrish” by Liv Constantine is a truly wild ride, full of deception — the twist is literally (in every sense of the word) shocking.
With the digital age, it is easy to forget that life exists beyond the phone, that there are activities that do not involve scrolling through Instagram.
I had forgotten how calming reading is, how time easily flies when engrossed in the pages of a good book. I was reminded of this while reading “The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman. A purely delightful story following three siblings through their lives, as they discover more about themselves, the magic that surrounds them and, most importantly, love. Whipping through the pages, you will laugh, you will cry and the domino effect has started. As you reach the last page, cherishing the time spent with the magical siblings, the reading bug has been planted, and you will find yourself reaching for the next book.
And for those of you who always have an excuse for not reading, Witherspoon has the answer. In conjunction with her book club, she partnered with Audible. Audible shares Witherspoon’s picks as audiobooks to its subscribers, so you can turn it on in the car or on your daily commute, making it the perfect time to listen to the adventures of your favorite characters.
Books are not going anywhere, Witherspoon is making sure of that.