At Grist, we’re not just invested in reporting and investigating the most important climate stories; we also want to include readers in the work that we do, which often takes the form of asking for questions or tips, and sharing reader input and responses. And sometimes, readers will give us an idea for a whole new project.
Grist has grown its suite of newsletters, which includes Looking Forward – a free, weekly email covering climate solutions. The newsletter has a dedicated following that often responds to questions posed by writer/editor Claire Thompson.
Last year, Thompson asked readers to share what was bringing them hope.
One common theme quickly emerged: books. So Thompson shared a list of books recommended by readers in a subsequent newsletter. She also asked readers if they’d be interested in a reading group, and following an enthusiastic response, the Looking Forward book club was born as a perk for newsletter subscribers.
“We’ve always had a goal for Looking Forward to be really interactive and driven by what readers want, and the book club is one manifestation of that,” said Thompson. She added that it’s a great method for face-to-face meetings with and among readers. Plus, it’s been an important way to learn more in general about readers, their interests, and the climate expertise that some of them bring to the table.
The first gathering was held in September with 30 participants, and the most recent meeting was held in mid-January with 45 participants, both on Zoom. Readers recommended and voted on the first two books: All We Can Save, and The Ministry for the Future.
In both of the gatherings, the author joined the group for a Q&A (in the case of All We Can Save it was one of the book’s co-editors, Katharine Wilkinson). Then Thompson broke participants into small breakout rooms to meet each other and discuss prompts – strategically designed to encourage participation whether or not they’d read the whole book.
“The newsletter is a community of people built around climate solutions, so the book club gatherings have also been a space for people interested in climate action to meet and get inspired by each other,” said Jess Stahl, editor for creative storytelling. Participants said they appreciated coming together with others who care deeply about these issues, and that it felt meaningful even in a virtual setting. Many participants told Stahl and Thompson that they haven’t found this type of group in their local area, so they felt grateful to find it with Grist.
Not only has the feedback been positive, but the books have also spurred at least one reader to action. Eric Arellano told Grist that The Ministry for the Future helped inspire them to donate 60 percent of their income to efforts addressing the climate emergency, including to Grist. “I wouldn’t have read Ministry if it weren’t for this group, which would have made me much less likely to make this donation decision,” they said.
The plan is to hold a book club gathering once a quarter, and the next event will take place in the spring. Looking Forward also plans to partner with Science Friday and the SciFri book club to hold a joint book club event in September.
Subscribe to Looking Forward to find out about the next book club event!
Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.