After four years building the Huffington Post into nonstop-news central, Arianna Huffington is eyeing Oprah’s territory with the launch of the HuffPost Book Club. Her first selection praises the slowness that’s gone missing from our lives. So, is the queen of 24/7 news downshifting? She spoke with us about how she likes to disconnect, why she’s holding book discussions over Twitter, and what’s stopping her from making a Tina Brown move into print publishing.
Flavorpill: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore is both your first pick and a book that helped inspire the HuffPost Book Club. What place do you see for slowness in our 24/7 media jungle?
Arianna Huffington: I love the rapid-fire, up-to-the-second nature of today’s news environment. But it can have its downside. “Always connected” can mean “never connected with yourself.” So we need an oasis. A chance to unplug and recharge. To reflect. To slowly savor. That’s one of the things a Books section can provide.
The prevailing culture tells us that nothing succeeds like excess, that working 80 hours a week is better than working 70, that being plugged in 24/7 is expected, and that sleeping less and multi-tasking more are an express elevator to the top. It’s the exaltation of exhaustion. So, in picking In Praise of Slowness, I was saying (in no small part to myself) that it’s OK to disconnect and curl up with a great book.
FP: What’s the format for discussion going to be like?
AH: We’ll use a variety of formats: live chats, video chats (where readers can interact directly with the author via their webcam), reader submissions, Twitter exchanges. The goal is a robust conversation about whatever book we are reading. For instance, with this first book, I’ll be very interested to see if the concept of slowness changed the way people look at their lives. Did they discover something about themselves and how they live today?
FP: In your post announcing the Book Club, you write that you’ll be selecting “books that captivate and excite me, that make me want to run out and buy multiple copies to give to my friends.” So, what are some of the books that have made you want to do just that (even if you won’t be selecting them for the Club anytime soon)?
AH: There are so many books that captivate and excite me — from Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian to John Kenneth Galbraith’s A Short History of Financial Euphoria — the tricky part will be deciding which books to feature as a pick.
FP: The Books section at HuffPost now includes a partnership with the New York Review of Books. How did that come about?
AH: I’ve always been an avid reader of the New York Review of Books. For going on 50 years, it has been the premier source of thoughtful, penetrating articles on books — as well as politics, culture, and current events. So when we decided to start a book section, the first call I made was to the Review‘s legendary founder Bob Silvers, asking if he’d be interested in partnering with us. To my great joy, he was. As part of this partnership, HuffPost Books is now hosting some Review articles before the print version comes out as well as giving readers access to other NYR articles within a branded space in our section.
FP: The Daily Beast is getting into the book publishing business with Beast Books. Could you ever see HuffPost Books heading in that direction?
AH: I never say never, but we don’t have any plans to get into book publishing. We’re happy to simply start a conversation around books. As I said when we launched HuffPost Books, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books and reading, and couldn’t be more excited that we now have a Books section.
I’m also thrilled that HuffPost Books is being edited by Amy Hertz. When I was making the rounds of publishers, talking about my idea for a book on fearlessness, Amy was one of the editors I met with, and we had a real meeting of the minds, not just on books but on many aspects of our lives. We stayed in touch, and when it came time to pick an editor for Books, she was our first choice. She is still editor-at-large at Penguin, but we’ve managed to work it out so she can bring her drive, passion, taste, and love of books to our new section.