Rachel Syme is a big fan of late-night Wikipedia reading.
"Start with Cleopatra and you'll see she was one of the ancient matriarchal rulers," she said. "And it'll take you to the page of ancient matriachs. And you'll click on one. Then, 17 clicks in. you're finding stories that no one ever thought to write."
And that's exactly how #wlclub was born, from this fascination with untold women's stories.
#wlclub is a Google group book club, a Slack community, Syme's brainchild and an online meeting place for readers to parse women's biographies, written by women. Its mission is simple: read more books about women, by women. Anyone can join — the club counts several men among its members. The group's first selection was Janet Malcolm's "The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes."
The hashtag (signifying "women's lives club") has popped up in Twitter bios, book Instagrams and more.
Syme says she's been most impressed with how many participants have joined in the club's one-month existence. Within the first day, 175 people signed up ("Which is crazy," Syme said. "I thought it would be 10 people.").
Significant buzz on Twitter, support from Syme's own community of women writers, healthy encouragement from literati, and an article in Amy Poehler's "Smart Girls" — now more than 1,000 members have joined the conversation.
Given how quickly it has caught on, for the club's March selection — "Wrapped in Rainbows," a Zora Neale Hurston biography — Syme asked booksellers to place bulk orders.
"Women aren't carrying enough ammunition around with us in our pockets about where we've been and who we can consider our heroes," Syme says. "When you see a line of people you can connect to from the past, your life starts to matter so much more. One other person's life is your life, too. Reading a biography is reading about your life."
And beyond that, they're actually, you know, reading the books — eyebrow-raising for any seasoned book clubber. But members are not only reading the books — they're also reading about the women. Search #wlclub on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and more to reveal a dedicated cadre of book selfies, highlighted lines and more.
"Most book clubs you're like 'Yeah, I'm in' and then you realize the book club is in 20 minutes and you underline a sentence and talk about it for half an hour," Syme says. "One of the things that's been so touching to me is that people are reading all around a woman's life. They're reading journals and "The Bell Jar" and articles about Sylvia."
And the social aspect is undoubtedly a huge force behind the #wlclub phenomena. Women sharing selfies with book covers, mini-essays in the Google Group and their own work within a #wlclub Slack channel — it's hard not to experience some serious cool-girls FOMO.
As the club grows, Syme envisions IRL meet-ups (already happening in Portland and San Francisco), author involvement and, of course, more members and conversations. And maybe, too, more books about amazing women.
"Their stories didn't get to be told in the grand, epic way that many men's stories were told," Syme says. "There's a movement to read the books."
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