Words: Sam Wittwer
Illustrations: Keith Pfeiffer
December 20 2015
What should I read next? Even the most prodigious of readers can be rendered into a zombie-like stupor by the question, aimlessly wandering the stacks of their favorite book shops hoping for something to catch their eye.
Until we caught on to Bibliofeed we too were often unsure, with pile of half finished books stacked high to prove it. For the past year, friends and book fiends Mina Douglas, Holly Hiday and Wolfgar Coleman have been curating Bibliofeed. It’s a sort of Instagram book club, bringing together the recommendations of all walks of voracious readers, from poets to librarians and everyone in between. We caught up with the trio to chat about the Bibliofeed project and get some book recommendations for the New Year.
So, what is Bibliofeed?
Holly: It’s basically a book club through Instagram.
Wolfgar: It’s not really a book club though, because we’re not asking people to read along. We’re just compiling a list of suggestions.
H: It’s a hub of recommendations.
Mina: Yeah, I feel like how it works kind of explains what it is. So, an Instagram that’s curated weekly and each contributor picks seven books that they would recommend for other people to read.
W: Seven books that are not just good, but important to them.
H: Exactly. We had seen something similar before, but we felt that the idea wasn’t living up to its potential.
W: They had a Denny’s menu one week.
M: We liked the idea, but wanted to make it our own.
H: And that’s how bibliofeed started. The hardest part was coming up with a name.
M: Yeah it was! We spent a good couple hours on it.
W: It was days!
M: I just remember when we came up with “Bibliofeed” – I was sitting on my couch.
H: I think we all knew that was the perfect name for it – and it was still available! So bibliofeed was born. Last December, right?
M: Yeah! I think it was the first week of December. I know I was putting up Christmas lights.
H: And Mina was the first contributor!
Bibliofeed features a new contributor each week, how do you find people to participate?
M: Originally we just had friends doing it.
W: When we ran out of willing friends, we started browsing hashtags and looking at the recommended feed on Instagram. It’s gotten to the point now that people reach out to us to ask if they can contribute.
Did you have outlets—digital or otherwise, for sharing book and reading recommendations before?
M: I’ve used the website GoodReads before.
W: I used to be in a book club, but I was the only person who ever read the book.
H: I actually tried to join an Instagram book club once. Didn’t you do it with me, Mina?
M: Yeah! I actually don’t think they ever did a second book.
H: No, I don’t think they did. Bibliofeed is definitely my go-to for book recommendations now.
Do you know how many people have contributed so far?
H: Oh man, I don’t know.
M: Like 50 maybe?
Do you have favorite recommendations from those that have been posted in the feed so far?
H: I had previously bought The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which sat by my bed unread forever. But someone recommended it one week and I loved what she said so much that I finally started reading it – and it was really good!
W: I don’t have a favorite recommendation, but I have a favorite contributor.
W: @mkligman. The way he wrote about the books, it was very clear that he was putting a part of himself into each description. He shared what was going on in his life when he read each book. Like, he actually read The Great American in the hotel lobby where it was written and where it takes place. That’s the one that stuck with me the most.
H: Mina, do you have a favorite?
M: I don’t know, I like all of them. It’s always just exciting to see what everyone chooses.
W: I like the ones that have some sort of theme that holds them all together. Like the guy who took us on a tour of Boston, that was pretty interesting.
M: That was really cool! There are a lot of really good ones
What makes someone good at recommending books?
M: I would say what Wolfgar just said – when somebody really puts a part of themselves into the recommendation.
W: Yeah, it’s not just what they say. It’s also the pictures they take and how much thought they put into them.
M: People will take bits of their personal lives and use them in the photographs. Those are definitely the best ones.
H: I think anyone can be good at recommending a book, as long as they had an emotional connection or response to the book they’re recommending.
Inversely, how do you know if someone will like a book? What questions do you ask?
H: I guess you can’t really know if someone will like a book.
M: Sometimes you end up liking something unexpected.
W: I usually just recommend books that I like and if they don’t like it I seriously reconsider whether or not I still want to talk to them.
W: I think it’s obvious that I’m kidding.
Do you have goals for the future of Bibliofeed?
H: I just want it to keep going. I’m afraid we’re going to run out of contributors one day and I’ll be really sad.
M: I don’t think we will though!
W: If each of our followers did one week we’d have enough for the rest of our lives.
M: That’s crazy!
W: I want the VMFA to curate a week. That’s my goal.
M: I would like for us to be able to give back in some way. Even if we had a little web store, all of the profits could go to good programs. The three of us have talked about it before. Even if it was just donating money to a library.
H: We’re actually working on a tote now. One of our friends designed a logo for us that’s really great, so that’s on the tote and we’re hoping to make it available soon.
So, could each of you recommend a book for us?
H: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, because I feel like it’s one of those books that allows you to learn something new about yourself each time you read it – so, a new perspective for the new year. Also just because it’s my favorite book.
M: The Watchmen by Alan Moore, with art by Dave Gibbons. It’s always my go-to recommendation because it isn’t a typical comic book. It can get someone into reading comics that normally wouldn’t pick one up, and vice versa – it can get someone that mainly reads comics more interested in novels. Every time I read it I notice something new.
W: Yes! That was going to be my pick! All of the characters deal with the changes in their lives so incredibly poorly – just like real people.
W: Another pick that stands out for me is As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. The language can be exhausting but it’s worth the effort; it’s another example of less than glamorous real life responses to change or loss. Each member of the family responds to the mother’s death differently: the oldest son by building her coffin; the father goes about the insane task of fulfilling his wife’s last wish and making the family bring her body 40 miles away, in a horse drawn wagon, in the heat of summer, with an un-embalmed corpse, in the rural south of the 1930’s; and the daughter, she only joins them on the macabre road trip to because it presents an opportunity for her to resolve her own issues. The world is a weird place, and we all respond to it and the events in our lives differently; this book captures that perfectly.
Chatting with Bibliofeed this week inspired a heated discussion about the best books and magazines we have to offer, so we pulled together some recommendations from the team at Need Supply Co.
Ruscha is one of my favorite artists, and LA is one of my favorite cities. This book is a beautiful and comprehensive study of the city I love by an artist I love. Kiersyn Cocke
Garance is an inspiration for any woman looking to find and embrace her truest self through the love of life, fashion and travel. A French illustrator and creative mind, lovely Garance, in her 40’s, provides advice and experiences on different points of life through honesty and self-aware humor. A beautifully designed book with a admirable impression. Marleigh Culver
As a climber and photographer, this book covers all my interests. Lauren Lyon
I love this book not just because I know one of the girls that co-wrote it, but to be honest I am usually either thinking about what I just ate or what I’m going to eat next. Anousheh Khalili
I’m an avid Bond fan – and this is the ultimate behind the scenes guide – right up to Spectre. I get especially excited about Bond around the holidays, when it seems like you can always find a Bond Marathon on TV. Oh, and if anyone wants to gift me the Omega Seamaster 300 Spectre edition, they know where to find me. Peter Khoury
Self service is one of my favorite fashion magazines, and a constant source of inspiration. Giovanna Cordero
Simply put, I love being in the kitchen and I also have an obsession for all things Nordic and Scandinavian. This book puts the two things together. An easy choice as my favorite book that we carry. Chris Green
I doubt there are many people left that haven’t heard of Apartamento – but I think it is worth pointing out how consistently well made this publication is. It’s a magazine that screams to be cracked open, dogeared and shared among friends. Sam Wittwer