The words "book club" and "cool" have rarely appeared in the same sentence, until recently. The Rumpus (www.therumpus.net), the online culture magazine founded and edited by author Stephen Elliott, may have created the first truly cool book club. What's so cool about it? Well, the books are hip—titles from publishers like McSweeney's, Graywolf, Melville House, as well as Little, Brown—and members of The Rumpus book club get them in advance of publication, enabling members to feel especially in the know.
Elliott described book club members—of which there are currently more than 280—as "a particularly literary group, people who take pleasure in finding that rare gem." They are also, said Elliot, people who "just want a cool book, in advance, delivered direct to them. Many of the members live in places without a good independent bookstore. They joined the book club because they trust our recommendations."
For $25 a month (a full-year's subscription costs $250), club members get a copy of the book a month before publication—Citrus County by John Brandon, from McSweeney's, was the first selection, in June, and a story collection called The Surf Guru by Doug Dorst, from Penguin, is the July pick—and can participate in an online discussion around pub date with the author. The Rumpus then edits that discussion and publishes it as an interview on the site. Club members are also invited to review the book; The Rumpus publishes the best of these reader reviews. Elliott believes that this benefits both reader and publisher. "It used to be that only people with jobs in the media could get advance copies of books," he said. "But everybody's part of the media now. Those walls have come down—everyone is a potential reviewer."
The Rumpus pays the wholesale price for the books and also pays for shipping. Whatever's left from the subscription fee helps support the two-person staff of the magazine.
Although the club started only a month ago, publishers are already clamoring to get their books chosen: "We are being pitched a lot. Almost immediately I started receiving letters from authors and publishers," Elliott said. He believes that selection is one of the major benefits to book club members, so he's being picky: book club selections come from trusted editors' or friends' recommendations.
Elliott also picks books from authors he thinks have an affinity with The Rumpus. "We're doing Tao Lin's new novel, Richard Yates, coming from Melville House in September. We're really interested in Tao as a writer on the margins of the mainstream literary world, really fond of some of his other books, and we've discussed him a lot on The Rumpus. We haven't read the book yet, but we're looking forward to it, and think it's a book that people who read The Rumpus are also interested in. I really hope it's good," said Elliott.
The book club was successful enough in its first month that Elliott decided to do something even stranger—a poetry book club. In the first four hours it was advertised on the site, Elliott said that five people signed up for the club, big numbers for poetry. "I think this is going to work," said Elliott.