‘Today Show:’ Jenna Bush Hager Just Earned This Title That Used to Belong to Oprah
Launched in March
Hager announced her new book club, Read with Jenna, in March. According to Entertainment Weekly, her first pick was “The Last Romantics” by Tara Conklin, which follows four siblings through decades of their lives. After being selected for Hager’s club, the book went to No. 6 on the New York Times best seller list. Entertainment Weekly is calling Read With Jenna “publishing’s most coveted seal of approval.”
Maybe it’s in her genes – Hager’s mom, Laura Bush, was a librarian and vocal advocate for education and literacy during her time as First Lady to Hager’s father, President George W. Bush. Hager also served in the education system as a teacher.
A somewhat crowded space
Hager is not alone in trying to cultivate readers. Celebrities including Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Watson, and of course the TV book club pioneer Oprah Winfrey, have all launched their own literary circles, according to Entertainment Weekly. Yet Hager’s club stands out since she is basically running it solo. “You say ‘You guys,’ but you really are just talking about one person — me!” Hager said in the article. “Reese Witherspoon was on the show the other day, and we were talking about it. She’s like, ‘I have a whole team, Jenna!’ The problem is, I definitely need to read the whole book before I recommend it — and I’m a pretty picky reader.”
Hager reads at least six or seven books a month, focusing on new and unknown authors. “I’m not recommending to one best friend,” Hager said. “I’m recommending to this huge audience of people that trust us and love our show. That puts pressure on me.” Hager makes a priority of putting the spotlight on underrepresented cultures, while appealing to a wide audience. “We’ve chosen books that are about identity and family, about finding our own voices,” she said.
Her May pick is an example of the depth she hopes to achieve in her selections. “A Woman Is No Man” by Etaf Rum, which looks at the lives of three women in a Palestinian family, has become a personal favorite of Hager’s. “[It] was really life-changing for me,” she said in the article.
The numbers are showing that Hager’s opinion carries weight with readers. The week after she picked Rum’s book, sales rose 10 times over what it had sold the week prior and was put on the coveted New York Times best seller list.
The new Oprah of books?
Read with Jenna has proven to move books up the best-seller list, over her fellow book club leaders. According to Entertainment Weekly, on May 1, both Hager and Witherspoon announced new picks, Etaf Rum’s “A Woman Is No Man” and Tembi Locke’s “From Scratch,” respectively. Hager’s choice immediately ranked among Amazon’s top five best-sellers, where Witherspoon’s pick didn’t even make the top 50. Maybe that’s due to the 4 million-plus viewers that Today pulls in each morning, but you can’t deny Hager’s obvious influence in this space.
Entertainment Weekly reported that Read with Jenna stands alone in sales impact this year in comparison to other book clubs, calling her influence of book selections something that hasn’t been “seen since Oprah’s glory days.” High praise indeed.