The joy of a monthly book club: "My Book Hunter"


Mélanie Francès runs "My Book Hunter", a club where she picks one awesome work of fiction each month and sends it to you handwrapped. This month is "Almost Famous Women" by Megan Mayhew Bergman, which I'm loving.

My Book Hunter has a fun backstory, too. I first encountered Mélanie in the early days of Instagram; she was/is @audreyyorke there, and she became internet famous for snapshots of people reading books on the subway system. Soon she'd created a lovely gallery of that particularly urban act of aesthetics and concentration: Tuning out the couple having a breakup argument next to you while you sink deeply into some fiction. Books are a great way to practice what Erving Goffman called "civil inattention".

Melanie Francis subway shot 2015-03-11 at 2.35.39 PM

Anyway, Mélanie would get into long Instagram-comment threads conversations, sometimes about books she saw people reading, sometimes about books she was reading, and commenters would reply all over the world, including me. (At one point she dared me to read Ulysses at the same time and pace as her, so we could track our reading on Instagram; I still love the idea but, gulp, never followed up on it.) A few years back I called Mélanie to interview her about how Instragram had unexpectedly become a big boon for book-lovers. They'd post pictures of their new books, snapshots of individual paragraphs, shots of stacks at bookstores so followers could help them pick one to read, etc. (In many ways, they were the first people to seize on the power of the textual screenshot.) Mélanie said these connections were tiny ad-hoc book-clubs winking in and out of existence as needed.

Mélanie has terrific taste in fiction, so I wasn't surprised last year when she took all her observations about online community and book, and started her own book club. (This industrial-age concept, the monthly book, is getting a new shot in the arm, given the rise of logistics firms like Quarterly, which lets people curate subcription boxes. Book Riot runs a cool book-of-the-month club via Quarterly too.)

The first book I got from Mélanie was Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman. It's an absolute blast. Bergman writes fictionalized stories about 13 women who actually lived in the past, and who all share one trait: They're sort of famous, sometimes because they were overshadowed by their relation to more well-known figure. So there's a story about Norma Millay, the less-famous actor who was the sister to the tropospherically high-flying Edna St. Vincent Millay. There's a very short piece on Hazel Eaton, who drove a motorcycle in the "wall of death" — one of those round cages where the cyclist would go so fast she could ride perpendicular to the ground, defying gravity. And there's a particularly wrenching tale of the 3-year-old Allegra Byron, sent to live at a convent by her neglectful father Lord Byron, who'd sired her with a mistress.

I don't want to give spoilers, because these are all reasonably plot-driven tales. But they're great: Bergman is a writer capable not only of great force but with delicacy and wit. Some of these stories are haunting me.

You can buy Mayhew's book here and join My Book Hunter here.