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Reese Witherspoon, Jimmy Fallon help fuel the rise of celebrity book clubs

Among the books that actress Reese Witherspoon selected for her book club: "Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman. Witherspoon is one of several celebrities who have book clubs. | AP

Jimmy Fallon remembers a summer a few years back when it seemed everybody was reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.

“Everyone had that book,” Fallon says. “If we had people over, or went on vacation poolside, people had that book wrinkled and curled up. I read it with my wife, and we read every chapter together, and we’d be, like, [gasps] ‘This is great!’ It was the world’s smallest book club.”

This summer, Fallon decided to expand his book club of two to include his late-night audience. In June, he launched “Tonight Show Summer Reads.” Fallon presented five book options on his show and asked viewers to go online and vote for their favorite. The results exceeded his expectations , with 140,000 votes. The winner was “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi.

Jimmy Fallon launched “Tonight Show Summer Reads” in June. | Provided photo
Jimmy Fallon launched “Tonight Show Summer Reads” in June. | Provided photo

Fallon’s endorsement had an impact.

“When a celebrity decides to get behind a book, we generally see a lift in sales,” says Chris Schluep, an editor at Amazon. “For instance, ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ has been selling well this year. But the week after Jimmy Fallon selected it as the first ‘Tonight Show’ book club selection, it sold nearly three times the number of print, Kindle and Audible books that it had sold in the previous week at Amazon.”

Fallon isn’t the only celebrity to follow in Oprah Winfrey’s footsteps with a book club. Reese Witherspoon has made such a success of her monthly literary picks that publishers now put “Reese” stickers on her selections.

“It’s fantastic,” says Witherspoon, who has bought the rights to many of her picks to adapt for film or television.

One of her selections — “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng — will be a limited series on Hulu starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

The Oscar winner also has partnered with the audio producer-distributor Audible on audio recordings of her selections.

Emma Roberts has turned her lifelong love of reading into a pet project she calls Belletrist. A website and social media for Belletrist celebrate all things books. Each month they feature a new book to read and even an independent book store to check out.

“Belletrist is my baby,” says Roberts, who runs the site with her partner, Karah Preiss.

Emma Roberts tends to highlight books written by women. | Getty Images
Emma Roberts tends to highlight books written by women. | Getty Images

She says there is “no criteria” for books she features because her taste is so varied, but she leans toward highlighting female authors.

Sarah Jessica Parker is working with the American Library Association to share her suggestions, aiming to get people to read and also to support their local libraries.

When Parker was approached by publishing house Hogarth to start her own imprint, her respect for writing initially made her think it wasn’t a good idea.

“I didn’t think I had the experience and had too much respect for people who’ve been in publishing for a long time,” she says.

But Parker decided it could be a way to help champion works of literary fiction, which isn’t always commercial. The first novel printed by “SJP for Hogarth” — “A Place for Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza, is a New York Times best-seller.

Books are the “one thing I can talk about on Instagram that’s not controversial,” Parker says. “Everybody wants to talk about their favorite books or their feelings about books and share title recommendations.”

Other celebrities are following in the pioneering footsteps of Oprah Winfrey with their book clubs.| AP
Other celebrities are following in the pioneering footsteps of Oprah Winfrey with their book clubs.| AP