Malala Yousafzai hasn’t had a lot of time to read anything outside her studies of late. But at the moment, living in lockdown with her family in England, she’s reading about an investigation into the world’s wealthiest and their egregious abuses of power.
“Right now I’m reading Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas,” she tells me. “For most of this year, I was really focused on my final exams at Oxford, so I’m just starting to read for fun again!”
The 22-year-old Nobel laureate, activist, author, and fierce champion for girls’ education just graduated from Oxford, with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
It’s a strange time for institutions of learning at the moment. Schools look set to fully reopen next month in the UK, although Yousafzai graduated at home like many students across the country — her family engaged in a post-exams Oxford tradition called “trashing” involving a lot of airborne flour and confetti.
“I can say that I would have greatly preferred to finish my last months of Oxford on campus — but it’s much more important that we protect the health of our communities,” she says. “I’m delighted for the children who can go back to school safely. I’m sure they’ve missed their friends like I missed mine.”
Yousafzai’s been a longtime advocate for the power of reading and learning, famously calling for worldwide access to education at the U.N. Youth Assembly in 2013, concluding, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”
So, it’s inevitable that many of us would love to know what Malala herself is reading. Luckily, you’ll soon be able to get recommendations straight from the Nobel Prize winner herself, as she’s teamed up with Austin-based literary startup Literati for a new monthly book club.
Launching in October, the book club platform will be stacked with collections curated by five notable people including Yousafzai, NBA MVP Stephen Curry, Virgin magnate Sir Richard Branson, bestselling author of The Orchid Thief and staff writer for The New Yorker Susan Orlean, and late American mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell. Literati until this point had purely been a monthly book club for kids aged 0-12.
Each book club will cost $24.95 per month and for this, members are posted a print copy of whichever book the head of the club has picked. They’ll also get limited release access to Literati’s iOS app, a social platform for members to discuss each book, which is currently in beta.
Each club has a name that describes the overall direction or theme. Curry’s is called “Underrated,” and will focus on powerful stories about overcoming the odds. “I’ve been intentional and really thoughtful about my picks to ensure the club is inclusive of diverse perspectives from women, people of color, and other underrated voices,” he said in a press statement. Branson’s “Reading with Richard” is pretty straightforward, meanwhile: books that have inspired him.
So, what’s Yousafzai’s club called? Fittingly, “Fearless,” which will amplify the work of neglected authors. “I’m not revealing the names of my books just yet, but they are a mix of first-time authors or first books from well-known authors. And, so far, all women!” she says.
Yousafzai is undeniably fearless herself — at 15, she was shot by the Taliban for speaking up for girls and their right to an education. Campaigning for and amplifying underrepresented voices has been her longtime mission, whether in her own writing, her activism or through the YouTube channel run by her own girls’ education nonprofit Malala Fund. She most recently co-authored We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, which details her own experience living in the UK, alongside stories of girls and women who also fled their homes. And it appears this representation will continue in her choices for Literati. “One of my first three selections for the book club is a story of a young refugee. I know readers will love this book,” she says.
“One of my first three selections for the book club is a story of a young refugee. I know readers will love this book.”
That’s all the clues we get for the time being until the book club launches in October. But if you’re still trying to guess (like we are), it’s worth noting that when Yousafzai spoke to the New York Times Sunday Book Review back in 2014, she named Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner as the one book all girls should read and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner as the one all students should read, as well as The Alchemist writer Paulo Coehlo as her favourite author of all time. Does this still stand?
“Yes, I still love all of these books,” she says. “I’ve probably read The Alchemist more times than any other book.”
Book clubs have flourished during the pandemic, even if purely online, as a means to connect, distract, or engage people during a severely weird time. Book clubs run by famous figures, in particular, are booming online, whether they’re fully-fledged mailout set-ups like Literati or more casual clubs set up by celebrities — with our favourites run by powerful women. Queen bibliophile Oprah has wielded her book club might for decades, Reese Witherspoon showcases stories with women at their centre, Emma Watson founded the intersectional feminist bi-monthly book club Our Shared Shelf, and Florence Welch posts her favourite reads in her Instagram club Between Two Books.
Personally, I meet with a group of friends every two weeks on Zoom and we pick by theme, meaning we’re able to pilfer our own bookshelves instead of buying a stack of new titles. Book clubs are about critical analysis and exposure to books and authors we might not have been across — but mostly, they’re about connecting with each other in a meaningful way.
“One thing I’ve loved about participating in book clubs is the discussion with my friends after we’ve all finished reading,” says Yousafzai. “People are also looking for community and conversations. So many of us have been lonely this year.”
Literati’s new collection of book clubs, including Malala Yousafzai’s, launch in October.