Richard and Judy, who are two TV "celebrities" in the UK whose programme(s) I have never seen – and whom I have never seen on any programme on TV – have announced a new book club. The couple are famous in the UK for (as well as whatever they do, or did, on TV) revitalising or arousing the interest in reading among a whole swathe of the population, so for this reason they get my vote (for similar reasons, so does Oprah Winfrey, another TV star whom I've never seen on TV to my knowledge though I think I have seen her acting in a film or two in the past).
After several series of their TV book club, Richard and Judy moved to a lesser channel last year, and experienced low ratings and the books chosen, lower sales, than hitherto. Now, the couple have launched a new version of their book club, eschewing the TV part altogether, and opting instead for a selection that W H Smith will sell on special offer (buy one get one free), and for an online review and discussion of one of these books every couple of weeks.
Inevitably, the announcement has drawn criticism and sneers from many, for example this post from The Booksellers' Association, usually a pretty sensible blog but not on this occasion. ("queuing up to cash in on their names and brand" is one of the first statements in the post.) It is not appropriate to sneer or criticise anyone or any venture that sets out to encourage reading. If Richard and Judy make a buck out of the enterprise, more power to them, this is no reason to criticise. Other grounds for criticism include "why an exclusive deal with W H Smith"? Well, it is a free market and if other booksellers, including Amazon, aren't already selling the books for the same amount, or even less, I'll be very surprised. Grounds for sneering include the lack of a TV deal. So what? Online discussion is particularly suited to reading group discussions of books, and the replacement of TV by the internet means that any reader can join in, not just those who have access to the TV channel concerned.
I wish that more "celebrities" and others would undertake similar initiatives. Waterstones have a table of selections in the front of the shop, each month by a different well-known person. So far as I know, a reading discussion is not attached to these, but there is no reason why it should not be.
The choice of books on Richard and Judy's list indicates to me that this is not a bland selection of bestsellers, but books that, as they say, they have enjoyed reading themselves this summer. Here's their website, should you wish to join in.
The Book Club list: