This ain't Oprah's Book Club: Diversity thrives in Two Dollar reading groups

Andy Downing
Inside Two Dollar Radio Headquarters

When Two Dollar Radio Headquarters made the natural decision to host multiple book clubs after opening a brick and mortar space in 2017, Eric Obenauf, who co-founded the indie publisher with wife Eliza Jane Wood-Obenauf in 2005, knew he didn’t want them to be of the traditional sort, where blandly amorphous groups meet to discuss the latest novel to top The New York Times best-seller list.

“Obviously we have the space, and we wanted to provide a platform for people to meet around books, and we tried to be a little different with the book clubs as opposed to being like, ‘This is Betty’s book club,’ or, ‘This is Billy’s book club,’” Obenauf said.

Rather, Obenauf wanted to cultivate diverse reading groups that reflected Two Dollar’s editorial mission, which is to present a diverse stable of author voices centered in “more experimental or esoteric literature,” as he said in a previous interview.

“And I think that’s reflective of our goals with the space and the type of community we’re trying to build with our events and the books that we stock. It’s all in line,” Obenauf said.

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Obenauf said he enjoys the way these groups can draw folks from all walks of life, pointing to two individuals who have attended every one of the Unicorn Book Clubs, which he has hosted for more than 18 months. One attendee is a former bookseller at NYC indie Brazenhead Books, where he worked alongside Jonathan Lethem in the ’80s. The other is a contractor and endurance runner. “So it’s nice to get people from different backgrounds who just share this common interest in books,” Obenauf said.

The full diversity of Two Dollar’s book clubs will be on full display over the next several days, as the condensed holiday schedule forced all four of the reading groups currently hosted at the space into a span of days, including the Feminist Sci-Fi-Book Club, Unicorn Book Club, Writers in Color and Young Feminists Book Club.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each reading group taking place this week at the bookseller, located on the South Side at 1124 Parsons Ave.

Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club hosted by Haley Cowans

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

Usually scheduled date: the fourth Tuesday of every month

Twitter-friendly description (aka here’s what to expect in fewer than 240 characters): What Obenauf termed the “most robust” HQ reading group centers its energy on speculative fiction by women/non-binary writers, offering a more literal take on that “the future is female” slogan.

Discussing this week: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Unicorn Book Club hosted by Eric Obenauf

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

Usually scheduled date: the third Tuesday of every month

Twitter-friendly description: Obenauf said the long-running club centers on overlooked works, often books in translation — at least one of which was never even completed. (Last month’s selection, Mount Analog, which informed cult film “Holy Mountain,” ends mid-sentence.)

Discussing this week: Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated  by Jennifer Croft)

Writers in Color Hosted by Devlin Prince

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18

Usually scheduled date: the second Wednesday of every month

Twitter-friendly description: As suggested by its name, this club, started by former librarian and bookseller Devlin Prince, focuses on works by writers of color, many of whom have been overlooked by more traditional gatekeepers.

Discussing this week: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Young Feminist Book Club hosted by Rio Obenauf

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19

Usually scheduled date: the fourth Thursday of every month

Twitter-friendly description: The youth-centric nature of this book club, geared toward ages 11-17, extends to its host: the Obenaufs' daughter, Rio. If you have young ones at home, consider this in future months.

Discussing this week: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg