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Image / Editorial

From book clubs to reality: Reese Witherspoon is flipping the script for women


by Lia Hynes
13th Jun 2018
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It is fair to say that at some stage of our lives most of us have wanted to be Reese Witherspoon’s best friend. Be it is sassy Reese (Legally Blonde), soulful Reese (Walk the Line), or down-home Reese (Sweet Home Alabama) there’s an everywoman  quality to her that makes it possible to imagine a drink and a girls’ night with this Oscar winning Hollywood powerhouse, something you’re unlikely to contemplate with fellow actress-turned-lifestyle-guru, Gwyneth Paltrow.

The girl’s night won’t come to fruition, but thanks to her Instagram book club, it is now possible, in the virtual reality that is the online world at least, to be in Reese’s book club.

She’s not the only celebrity running one. Dawn O’Porter launched @the_cold_water_book_club last month, and engages in conversations on each chosen book in the comments section of the account. Julia Roberts’ niece actress Emma Roberts runs @belletrist. At @bookclubcentral, Sarah Jessica Parker recommends under the hashtag #SJPpick. Singer Florence Welch runs @betweentwobooks; she is releasing her own first book, Useless Magic, a collection of lyrics and poetry, next month. Emma Watson’s book club can be followed at @oursharedshelf.

But it is Reese Witherspoon who has been the most successful at the Instagram book club.  Posting from her own account @reesewitherspoon (13.3m followers) and under the umbrella of her media brand Hello Sunshine, @reesesbookclubxhellosunshine, (535k followers) Witherspoon picks a monthly book. The actress, who herself has a lifestyle book out later this year, aims to celebrate women’s stories. Her taste is excellent. Past choices have included You Think it, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld’s first collection of short stories, Heather Harpham’s memoir HappinessErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, and This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

Most recently, she has announced a partnership with Audible to produce audio versions of books featured by her book club.

 Witherspoon has taken is one step further though, and in her second career as a producer has started optioning the film rights of many of the books she recommends. She first set up her production company, Pacific Standard, after becoming frustrated in 2012 with the lack of roles for women over thirty in films. The company’s mission statement is to make films about “different, dynamic” women, Witherspoon says. Surely the kind of thing we all want to read about. It makes the current list of books she has lined up for future adaptations a comprehensive reading list for the summer.

Witherspoon struck gold with her first choice, Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl. She purchased the rights before publication, but was turned down by numerous studios until the book became a huge hit.

It’s a genre she favours. This month’s book club pick is Something in the Water, the debut novel from actress Catherine Steadman, who played Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey. Published last week, Witherspoon has already bought the film rights.

It’s a thriller about couple Erin and Mark. Madly in love and planning their wedding, things start to go wrong when Mark loses his job in the financial sector and struggles to find another one. On their idyllic Bora Bora honeymoon a daytrip on a boat turns horribly wrong when they find…well..something in the water. It’s a fast-paced page turner you will devour in days.

Also in the thriller category, Jessica Knoll’s New York Times bestseller Luckiest Girl Alive sold more than 450,000 copies, and spent four months on the bestseller list. Knoll has written the screenplay of the movie Witherspoon will produce. The book, set in two time frames, depicts a woman’s struggle to come to terms with a sexual assault. Some time after publication, Knoll wrote an essay for Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny Letter, describing how the events in the book were actually based on an experience of her own in high school. Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten is another thriller, depicting the aftermath a young woman who is attacked but cannot remember the details of the assault. Witherspoon described it on her Instagram account as “a dark and twisting psychological thriller that had me guessing until the very end.”

Second Life by S.J.Watson, author of the brilliant Before I go to Sleep, is a thriller about a woman who creates an online persona in order to solve her sister’s murder. Ruth Warem’s In a Dark, Dark Wood combines two of Witherspoon’s favourite literary styles, a thriller, and narrative about female friendships. Her most successful creation to date on the theme of women’s relationships was of course Big Little Lies, based on the Liane Moriarty book (her back catalogue is well worth investigating). Witherspoon and friend Nicole Kidman have bought the rights to Moriarty’s book Truly Madly Guilty.

Memoirs are also a favourite on the list of Reese’s picks.

The film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, with Reese herself starring as the author, was Pacific Standard’s first film. For anyone who has lost someone to cancer, the depiction of Strayed’s beloved mother’s illness will be almost unbearable to read, so perfectly does she capture the relentlessness of that disease. It is worth persevering though. Witherspoon has also bought the rights to Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, and is said to be producing an HBO series based on the book which was inspired by the author’s advice column, Dear Sugar.

Napkin Notes: Make Lunch Meaningful, Life Will Follow, is another memoir. Garth Callaghan wrote notes to his teenager daughter on napkins which he would place in her lunchbox. When she was twelve when he was diagnosed with cancer; he decided to write enough notes to see her through high school whatever his prognosis.

Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, tells the true life story of female soldiers serving in Afghanistan, including Ashley White who died on duty. Witherspoon herself is said to be keen to take on the titular role.

Lastly, for something lighter, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine probably shouldn’t be an uplifting read, given the eventual revelations, but this is an utterly charming book, if you haven’t yet, read it before Witherspoon makes the movie.

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry is being compared with The Devil Wears Prada. Set on Wall Street, pre crash, the narrative looks at sexism in the workplace; Sherry works at investment bank Bear Sterns for over a decade. Witherspoon plans to star in the screen adaptation.