Yahdon Israel started the LiterarySwag Book Club in September 2015. Inspired by seeing well-dressed readers on the subway, he started the Instagram hashtag LiterarySwag to highlight the connection between fashion and literature. Israel grew up in Brooklyn and wants to elevate literature to the level of cool enjoyed by film and music, where he says it deserves to be.
Each month, the group meets to discuss the chosen book and discover the next title. When selecting a book, Israel notes he always wants to “make it worth the time for people who don’t read.” This is part of the ethos of the club: You don’t have to read the book to attend, but it is going to be worth your time.
LiterarySwag initially met at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, but they have found a forever home in The Brooklyn Circus, a men’s boutique clothing store based in the Gowanus neighborhood of the New York borough. The store sets the vibe for the evening with a down-to-earth sense of style, with displays of chucks and old-school letterman jackets.
Participants are free to find their copies of the book wherever they like, but the book club uses a subscription model. For $20 a month, Israel provides a copy of the book and has even added a special book club sticker.
The July 2018 meeting focused on National Book Award-nominated The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. The book tells the story of a large black family in Detroit over several generations as they struggle to hold on to each other and the place they call home. The conversation centered on family and the responsibilities one owes to their blood relatives.
The guest of honor at this month’s meeting was Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House. It is not uncommon to see authors show up to discuss their works. Israel’s connection and love for the literary community encourages authors to want to actively engage with excited readers.
July also marked the first time the LiterarySwag book club discussion was live streamed on Facebook, allowing even more people to take part in the conversation.
“For me, LiterarySwag Book Club is about community. It’s the one place where I can go and talk to everyday people about issues happening in today’s society, and where I can hear how others feel about such issues. The books are important. Yes. But hearing how the issues/topics in the book spotlight things happening in the lives of those in attendance is as important, if not more important,” says Randy Winston, a regular of the book club since the beginning.
As the book club aims to be as accessible to everyone, Martinelli’s, a non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider, is provided every month. The goal is to create a comfortable environment and community, or, as Israel describes “a barber shop mentality.”
While the aim of the meeting is to relate to the book and inspire larger conversations about life, there is a prize for the person who references the book the most: the Lit-est Member of the month. Naana Ohene, a LiterarySwag regular, was given the recognition this month.
Also keeping on brand, Israel awards a Swaggiest Member of the Month award for the best-dressed attendee. Adrian Daniel was recognized this month for his decision to wear leather pants in over 80°F (27°C) summer heat. It is dedication to a look.
The LiterarySwag Book Club touts about 70 percent regulars with new faces coming every month. Through the book club, Israel is creating excited and habitual readers, an effect he hopes will continue to spread.