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Introducing the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, ‘Now Read This’

The PBS NewsHour has teamed up with The New York Times to bring you a new book club called Now Read This. It will allow readers to participate in discussions in real time and ask questions of the authors. The first month’s selection is Jesmyn Ward’s new novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”

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  • William Brangham:

    And, finally, a project we are very excited about here at the NewsHour

    It's a collaboration with The New York Times- a new book club for the new year.

    Jeffrey Brown tells us more.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's my pleasure to announce a new book club we're calling Now Read This.

    Every month, we will feature a new book, fiction, history, memoir, and much more, and we will invite you to read along to join us throughout the month for features about the book and its author, and to send in questions you have for the author for an interview I will conduct at the end of the month.

    We're very excited about it. And this is also special and unusual for us, because Now Read This is a partnership between the NewsHour and The New York Times.

    And with me now is Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review. And joining us is my colleague at the NewsHour Elizabeth Flock to tell you more about the book club's many features.

    Pamela, first of all, it's a pleasure to do this with you.

    Share with the audience how we thought about picking books and all.

  • Pamela Paul:

    Well, I think what's unique about this book club is that it is two news organizations working together, and that the books that we're choosing are not only chosen on the merit of the book themselves, but also really selected because these are books that matter now.

    These are books that touch upon our times, the issues that are important right now, and books we think will really engage readers and viewers in a discussion.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Question I'm always asked by people is, how do you pick your art stories, how do you pick your books?

    And there is always a little bit of, I know it when I see it, and serendipity of the moment. But the kind of — the urgency that has to be on a news program, that's something important, and that's what we talked about when we thought about this.

  • Pamela Paul:

    Yes.

    I mean, at The New York Times Book Review, our criteria is a little bit different, in that it really does come down to the book itself. But I think what's interesting here is that this is a book club selection.

    And there are certain kinds of books that work especially well for book clubs and that make — in this case make sense for a book club that is driven by the news.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, Liz, tell people how — what they will find, and where they will find it, and what kind of features we will have.

  • Elizabeth Flock:

    Sure.

    So, the best way to join the book club is through our Facebook group Now Read This. We want everyone to sort of be able to join together there as they read and discuss the book in real time with members of our staff and fellow readers and send in their questions even for the author.

    And, also, we will be posting so much there from discussion questions to help guide them as they read the book, to writer's advice from the author, to sort of an inside look at how the book was written.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All the tools you need, whether you're already in a book club or if you want to start your own and follow us.

  • Elizabeth Flock:

    We really hope that book clubs around the country sort of read along as we do.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

    So that cues our first choice, right, which is Jesmyn Ward, her novel "Sing, Unburied, Sing," one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years.

    Pamela, why did we pick this one? What interested you?

  • Pamela Paul:

    Well, it's the book itself, which is a book that deals with race. It deals with violence. It deals with the legacy of Hurricane Katrina.

    And then it's also about the author, about Jesmyn Ward, who has really become a kind of literary force. She won the National Book Award for this book. It was her second National Book Award. Her second novel, "Salvage the Bones," won the award in 2011. She is the first woman to win twice for fiction of the National Book Award.

    And in addition to that, she edited an anthology that came out last year, writers writing essays on race, called "The Fire This Time." And she wrote a memoir called "Men We've Reaped," which was about the death of her brother and four other black men from Mississippi.

    So much of her work is really grounded in her community in Mississippi. Jesmyn is the first person in her family to attend college. She went on to go to Stanford. And she writes about the community that she came from.

    One of the things I found most moving was at the National Book Award ceremony this year, when she accepted her award, she said that she had been very discouraged at first by publishers who said that they didn't think that readers would be interested in reading about the kinds of people she wanted to write about.

    And, obviously, it turns out that she was wrong, happily, on that point, because readers have, in fact, been taking…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes, and for this particular book, I'm cheating in this case, because I got to read it months ago for a visit to that small town in Mississippi.

    In fact, I want to show a little clip from the interview that we aired. NewsHour viewers will have seen it a few months ago.

    This is Jesmyn Ward talking a little bit about, in this book, turning to writing about the supernatural, which was new for her, and how it made her think about writing a little differently.

    Let's take a look at that.

  • Jesmyn Ward:

    Most of my fiction is pretty realistic, right? And so here I was, you know, introducing the supernatural, introducing, like, the magical into my fiction, and it's a different kind of writing, right?

    It's the kind of writing where you have to invent an entire world. It has to be believable.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Tell us, Liz, about, so will happen? What will people find with Jesmyn?

  • Elizabeth Flock:

    So, Jesmyn is going to give us some of the writer's advice that she has received over time.

    But, also, our staff is reading "Sing, Unburied, Sing" as you all do. And one of the settings of "Sing, Unburied, Sing" is Parchman prison. It's the oldest prison in Mississippi. It long operated like a plantation. It was really institutionalized racism for many years.

    And someone on our staff is doing a deep dive into Parchman Prison, past and present.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And then, at the end of the month I will interview Jesmyn with the questions that all you people out there will send into us and readers from The New York Times.

    And at that point, we will also announce the next book, which we three have been talking about and have an idea about. And we're going to invite people to send suggestions in for what we should turn to over the coming months.

    We hope this will build and build, we will have readers galore.

    And for now, Liz Flock, Pamela Paul, and all of you, please, join us for our new book club.

    Thanks.

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