When Christy Schwartz started looking for a book club that reads her favorite genres, she couldn’t find one.
“I’m in another book club, but we read smart books that are never science fiction and fantasy,” she said. “I looked everywhere for an outlet in Birmingham for this, and there was nothing.”
So she gathered some friends — her husband, Adam, and Lucas Pepke and Talia Lin, who are married — and they started their own. And they invited anyone who wanted to join them.
Literarily Wasted, a self-proclaimed “free, online, geek-centric book club,” started a year ago with “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and hasn’t looked back. Thirteen books later, their audiences have grown from around 20 the first time to thousands who joined live or later watched their recent Q&A with Lev Grossman, best-selling author of “The Magicians “.
The quartet of friends didn’t quite know what to expect when they launched Literarily Wasted. All have day jobs – Adam and Talia with Red Clay Media, Lucas in marketing for STERIS Animal Health, and Christy as a manager at Rocky Heights Print and Binding, her family’s business – with Adam, Talia (and sometimes Lucas ) appearing in the popular “It’s a Southern Thing.
Talia and Christy had bonded through books.
“I thought, OK, he’s a bookworm like me,” Talia recalls. “So, oh, no, he’s a bookworm in a league I haven’t reached yet.”
The guys, even though they weren’t avid readers — “I was like, Lucas, you’re going to have to start reading,” Talia said — were in on it because they loved the geek aspect.
“We want to make books that aren’t typically represented in traditional bookstores,” Adam said. “We wanted to be a destination for like-minded people that we just couldn’t find.”
They called their new venture Geekward!, and Literarily Wasted came out of it. Since the beginning, they have partnered with 2n/a & Charles, specializing in used books, CDs, movies and video games.
The team chooses three potential books each month, and club members choose which one is read. There are two live discussions on each book – a discussion on the first half of the book on the second Wednesday, a discussion on the whole book on the fourth Wednesday. Starting early last month with Grossman, Literarily Wasted hopes to add more live Q&A with the authors. Each live chat is also available as a podcast and video on demand.
Along the way, the team tried “Gaming the Book,” in which Lucas and Adam brought their love for video games and merged it with the book discussion, and “Cooking the Book,” where recipes books have been prepared.
“It’s a book club, first and foremost, but we’re also always trying to find ways to do more and innovate,” Adam said.
Literally Wasted featured books by best-selling authors, such as Stephen King and Anne Rice, as well as lesser-known authors and some in between.
May’s book is “Kill the Farm Boy,” by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, and the first discussion takes place this week. (Like the other books of the month, 2n/a & Charles offers a 20% discount on the book).
Before the coronavirus, discussions of Literarily Wasted were broadcast live from the 2n/a & Charles. Discussions continue from home, streamed live on Facebook Live and YouTube Live. There is also a vibrant community that posts on the group’s Facebook page.
“It’s really a respite for people, I think,” Lucas said. “They’re nice people. There’s no drama. For so many places that get so many trolls, it’s nice to have a nice community of book-loving geeks.
The online aspect appeals to the Literarily Wasted base, Christy believes.
“The fact that you don’t have to leave your house to join our book club is a huge, huge part of that,” she said. “We have people from all over – all over the United States, someone from England, someone from South Africa.”
And this community has grown and become even stronger after the events of the past few months.
“We didn’t know the ability to be in a book club and not leave your house would become so important,” Talia said.
Adam said that, like the couples who launched it, Literarily Wasted features a comfortable mix of avid and casual readers.
“Our group is kind of a microcosm of our readers,” he said. “Talia and Christy can read 10 books a day. Lucas and I represent people who don’t read a lot but want to get into it.
It all adds up to a community of readers that feels like a group of friends, the four said.
“I think we tapped into the geek and book-loving community,” Talia said. “Turns out they were all on the internet. We’d find a bookworm friend who shared it with his bookworm friends who shared it with their bookworm friends. And we built ourselves a little web.