Book clubs are having a moment. Oprah certainly popularized the concept of a group of individuals reading and discussing a book together. But at the risk of sounding trite, Under Cover Books isn’t your typical book club. Members never physically meet to discuss the books they’ve read — and, since Under Cover also bills itself as a “scavenger hunt,” members have to find the books, which are planted in hidden spots across the city.
“I just the love the idea that at any moment you can just be surprised with something, just a gift,” says Samantha Evans, founder of Under Cover Books. “(People might say), ‘What’s the angle, what are you trying to achieve with this?’ It’s like, ‘I just really want you to read.’”
Evans was equal parts inspired to create the club by a late-night talk show segment asking random citizens whether or not they read (overwhelmingly, the answer was no) and a desire to connect people. Founded earlier this year, Under Cover’s first title was The Summer That Melted Everything, authored by Ohio native Tiffany McDaniel. Evans’ primarily selects a recently-released debut from a relatively-under-the-radar author for the club. Evans also conducts interviews with each Under Cover author.
“It’s more about having a dialogue and getting into their heads,” Evans says. “I don’t think you see a lot of book clubs where you get the author’s perspective and the author’s viewpoint of what it is they were intending to write.”
Evans has interviewed authors McDaniel and Claire Fuller, who wrote the club’s second novel, Swimming Lessons. Other books read by the club include: The Grip of It by Jac Jemc, The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman, The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang, The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, and the latest pick, Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt.
Each month, Evans hides copies of the pick in plain-sight locations around the downtown area, where she’s a resident. But she hopes to expand beyond the city center, saying that “there’s a lot of readers who would probably enjoy finding something and not have to come downtown to do it.”
Lucky ones who have found a book include Terri Green, who encountered the club’s first book at her workplace, the Dixie Terminal Building on Fourth Street. The book was sitting in a tree in the building’s lobby. Being an avid reader, Green recognized the title as one she already had on her to-read list. After claiming the book, she found a bookmark with Under Cover’s information inside, posted a photo of her find on Instagram, and started following the club’s account (@ undercover513).
“I was dancing in the hallway and (my team was) like, ‘Huh? You’re crazy,’ ” she says. “I was like, ‘No, best day ever, I found a book!’ ”
Social media and websites like Goodreads, Litsy and Book Riot help encourage and facilitate that unabashed joy surrounding books. Under Cover melds the traditional book club model with the omniscience of social media by posting frequent updates, author tidbits, and a rotating feature called Cover Stories, which promotes books the club hasn’t necessarily read but finds worth noting.
“I think social media makes it easier to seek those things out, and easier to share,” says Hillary Copsey, founder of Make America Read Again and a staff member at The Mercantile Library, where she has led a monthly book discussion group. “I think people like book clubs because it’s like any other art form you’re experiencing — it can be more fun to experience it with somebody.”
Evans has big plans for the future of Under Cover: more authors, possible collaborations and partnerships with local bookstores and libraries and a member discussion group. Ultimately, creating an opportunity for connection and that shared experience is Evans’ primary goal.
“I like the idea at the end of the day of just connecting people, just bringing people together,” she says. “Maybe something that they read will give them a different perspective; ‘maybe there’s a reason I found this.’ I like to put a little romantic spin on it, like a soulmate thing, with these books.”
For more info on Under Cover Books, visit undercover513.com.