Book club aims at Jewish readers


NEW YORK, April 18 (JTA) – Two media conglomerates have teamed up to give the People of the Book a U.S. book club.

Traditions, a joint venture by AOL Time Warner and Bertelsmann, comes after book clubs for other special interest groups have flourished.

The club will be operated by the direct marketing company Bookspan, whose club for evangelical Christians, launched in 1995, now boasts 1 million members – and whose club for African American readers, started in 1999, has 300,000 subscribers.

The Jewish market is fertile ground: A recent survey showed that 54 percent of U.S. Jews bought books in the past 12 months, compared with 43 percent of the general population.

And Jewish-themed books aren’t just for Jews anymore. Evangelical Christians also purchase Jewish books, says Arthur Goldwag, Traditions’ editor.

Just this week, Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” – a novel written by a Jewish author about a Jew who escapes Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II and makes it big in the comic book business – won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

“There are so many books written by and about Jewish people” that someone needs “to preselect the best books on different topics,” said Michelle Berger, vice president of new product development for Bookspan.

Traditions follows a format similar to the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Members join the club with an introductory offer of three books for $3 and a fourth book at 50 percent off the list price, then must buy two books at regular club prices during the next year. The books offered run the gamut of Jewish publishing.

The regular catalog will feature 120 titles. There also is a column in which Jewish thinkers and club members can voice their opinions. There will be bulletin boards on the Web, where club members can form virtual communities.

Every other month, the catalog will highlight a different charity, and a contribution will be made to that organization.

Literary books are sprinkled throughout the first catalog: Chabon’s novel; Yaffa Eliach’s award-winning book about the history of a Lithuanian shtetl, “There Once Was a World;” a complete Tanach; and books on ritual and prayer.

Traditions apparently hopes to appeal to all Jews, as the introductory catalog includes several cookbooks and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism.”

The aim, Berger said, is to choose books that are “central to what peoples’ lives are, close to their hearts, the community they grew up in – its cooking, culture.”

Giant bookstores have proliferated throughout the United States in the past decade, but the book club will help readers of Jewish books because, in a store, such books might be scattered throughout different sections, Goldwag said.

In certain books – like “The Bee Season,” a highly acclaimed first novel about the daughter of a Jewish mysticism scholar – “the main character is Jewish,” Berger says. “But no one knows that because the publisher wants” to appeal to the widest audience and “therefore plays that part down.”

More information about Traditions can be found on the Web at

Recommended from JTA