Based on a belief that “ink is where it’s at,” the Paris-based British writer Rosa Rankin-Gee started her monthly Book Club parties as a way to complement a literary magazine she hadn’t launched yet, but had in mind. Interviewed via Gchat, Rankin-Gee explains, “In today’s climate, simply launching a print magazine was not really a goer, so we decided to be practical and tie it to an event. Not just something arbitrary and drink-laden, but drink-laden and something we wanted ourselves.” Together with her friend and co-founder, Jethro Turner, the two came up with the manifesto of solidism to guide their future works. Stating that “art should be holdable, foldable—destroyable, if need be,” solidism is a belief in the touchable and tradeable, and an invitation to repurpose. “Don’t like it and you can bin it, burn it, or turn it into something else,” states their site.
The idea for a Paris-based Book Club and a sister literary mag took place on an evening back in January of 2011. With two of her close friends from Durham University living in London and Berlin, the title for the literary magazine came quickly: A Tale of Three Cities, a printed journal to showcase the best work from “Europe’s Golden Triangle.” Recognizing that it takes less time to organize a party in Paris than it does to launch a lit mag, Rankin-Gee and Turner focused their energies on the Book Club first.
They envisioned the club as part salon, part book swap, centered wholly around a love of solid books. “You have to have a book to get in,” explains Rankin-Gee. “It’s the passport, password, dresscode. Apart from that, anyone can come, young, old. The bar we do it had normally had a super exclusive door policy, but on our night, if someone has a book, they are welcome.”
The bar in question is the illustrious Carmen, former home to the French composer Bizet. Complete with gilded ceilings, frescoes and a golden birdcage, it’s the velvet personification of a book lover’s wet dream.
The first Book Swap party took place in February of 2011, and has been occurring monthly ever since, drawing crowds of up to three hundred people. Tale of Three Cities launched in October 2011, featuring writing from Zadie Smith (White Teeth) and Literary Death Match founder, Todd Zuniga, along with illustrations, photography and other delicate things. A work of art in itself, the first issue was a hand-numbered, limited edition run put out by the independent British publisher, Ditto Press, and it’s sold (by hand, of course) in such fashionable Parisian landmarks as Colette, Agnès B, and the Hotel Americano.
Not to be outdone, the namesakes of the two other cities in question have their own Book Clubs, now too. London’s takes place at the Soho House on May 28, 2012. Berlin’s is launching at the Berlin Soho House in June.
Self-described as a collector of moments, Rankin-Gee is thrilled with the Book Club’s success. “The reception amongst our generation to the idea of solidism has been nothing but positive,” she explains. “I think it’s because it’s not really a concept you can scoff at. It’s timeless, simple, and lifts to the sky something we are all scared of losing. There will be a strong backlash before the Nostradamus predicted death of books.”
A recipient of Shakespeare & Company’s Paris Literary Prize for her novella, The Last Kings of Sark, Rankin-Gee is currently working on her first novel about a young man named Benjamin and two people who live in a phone-box. International readers can purchase a copy of Tale of Three Cities on the magazine’s shop—it will arrive in a delicate envelope, sealed lovingly by London editor, Alex Tieghi-Walker.
Soho House, London
40 Greek Street
The Carmen, Paris
34 Rue Duperré
Soho House, Berlin