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Queen of the Book Club

WorldQueen of the Book Club

I’d never eaten Nashville hot chicken before, and I’d never met Reese Witherspoon.

But there we were — she, in a blue and white pinstripe Oxford and jeans; me, in forgettable clothing, having rolled up to Witherspoon’s office with a borrowed suitcase. You can’t very well greet the actor who played Elle Woods toting luggage with a visible burn mark across the top. (Related: Never use your carry-on as an ironing board.)

I’ve been following Witherspoon’s inroads in the book world ever since I saw her in “Wild” (2014) and knew, just by the gritty, vulnerable way she embodied Cheryl Strayed that she was a fellow book lover. In 2017, Witherspoon started Reese’s Book Club, which focuses on fiction by women, about women, and reliably sends its monthly picks onto the best-seller list. Last year, print sales for the club’s selections outpaced those of Oprah’s Book Club and Read With Jenna, according to Circana Bookscan, adding up to 2.3 million copies sold.

I’ve enjoyed many of Witherspoon’s picks and interviewed a number of Reese’s Book Club’s authors — including Alka Joshi, Nina Simon and Celeste Ng — for the Book Review. I wanted to talk with her, reader to reader, and the lead-up to her 100th pick seemed like the perfect time.

Over lunch, Witherspoon told me that she likes to read in the morning, after exercising. (I read instead of exercising.) She organizes her books by color and prefers physical copies to digital ones. She wears reading glasses, 1.5 strength — a tidbit that didn’t make it into my story but gave me a certain middle age presbyopic nerd thrill. (By the way, the hot chicken was delicious.)

“I read a lot on airplanes, while I’m traveling,” Witherspoon said. “Do you know what’s interesting? It’s hard for me to read on vacation, maybe because reading is my job.”

I can relate. Many of us professional readers lament the lost luxury of enjoying books “like a normal person” instead of guzzling straight from the faucet, always a gulp away from losing the plot (literally). I know what you’re thinking: Boohoo. And you’re right!

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