Jennie Edgar is a multifaceted entrepreneur, and the creative force behind So Textual, a monthly book club (and likely the chicest book club ever). Through So Textual, Jennie is able to bring like-minded individuals together who share a common love of books and the written word. Jennie is an avid reader, digital strategist, herbalist, mother and former birth worker.
Can you tell us about So Textual and the inspiration behind the company?
So Textual is an online book club and slow reading community. It was my husband’s idea for me to create a literary brand. He said, “you love books, you’ll always love books; that will sustain you.” And he was right. Books were my first love—not just the stories, but the objects themselves. People become disenchanted with academia but I loved my years in grad school reading literary theory and “problematizing” ideas. But my intellectual life always felt separate from my interests in lifestyle, fashion, design, and aesthetics—from beauty, honestly. I wanted to wed my disparate interests into one world. That became the So Textual world.
How do you select books that appeal to a diverse audience?
I am so opinionated about the books that I read, that I wanted to create a corner of the internet that was highly curated and not simply a reflection of publisher’s marketing schedules, which I find so many literary accounts are. The books we read or recommend for So Textual are books I stand behind as meaningful and insightful, of high literary merit. We recommend classics and others we consider “cult classics,” as we really only champion books that have stood the test of time. Recently, we’ve been recommending more new releases, as there are talented contemporary writers creating incredible works of art. Unfortunately, the majority of them I think are awful. I was talking to someone about this the other day and we both agreed on the word trust—it takes a lot to gain my trust as a reader. Reading takes so much time, effort, and emotional engagement. If someone doesn’t have something singular and exceptional to say, or lacks the ability to say it well, I’m so sorry I’m just not interested.
What is your favorite genre?
I adore literary fiction and nonfiction because I’m so intrigued by people’s interiorities—how they feel and experience the world, and how that manifests as thoughts and internal dialogue. I love the ways in which the mundane occurrences of everyday life can become magical—with subtleties, with nuance, with ritualization. A friend once said he doesn’t read magical realism because the world is already magical enough. That’s my sensibility, too. There’s as much going on in an Alice Munro story about a housewife on a train as there is in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Also, yes, plotless novels—vibes!
If you could have a conversation with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Oh there’s so many. Of course an obvious answer is Joan Didion, as I would want to hear her opinion on so many things, as well as her formulations for arriving at the opinion, itself. Another answer is Amy Hempel; she is living and I did have an opportunity to speak with her when I was at Bennington, and I was too shy. How do you tell a stranger they’ve changed your life? I stared at her whenever she was nearby and once she smiled at me. I swear, the smile said so much. With Amy’s writing, if you get it you get it. I always felt she was writing just for me. And, since I can never have just a single answer, I think I’d love to get a drink with Gordon Lisch and soak up the gossip on the New York literary scene between the 70s and the 90s. I mean, he had a fiction writing workshop called “Seduce the World, and he edited (perhaps, created) many talented, incredible writers.
Do you have any reading rituals that you find helped to relax?
I love to read on the airplane. I never connect my devices to the wifi and I almost never watch the movies. Air travel then becomes a special time to disconnect and read without interruption. I almost always wish the flights I’m on were longer, especially if I’m traveling alone. I like to overpack books when I travel so that I can still choose what to read by my mood, but even so I search out bookstores while abroad and usually purchase at least one. Even if it’s not in English, even if it’s in a language I can’t read. But exclusively reading on an airplane is my guilty pleasure—as a busy mom, if I am stuck in a seat with nothing to do other than read, I’m so happy. I always try to read books cover to cover on transatlantic flights and depending on the size of the book, I often succeed.
Scent is often linked to memory and emotion. Have you ever smelled something that reminds you of a book or setting in a book?
Used books are notorious for smelling good—if, I suppose, you love the smell of books. To me, they’re on par with horses and freshly ground coffee; just intoxicating and delicious. Some of my favorite used bookstores in cities I’ve lived or visited have the most warm and comforting scents. I’m thinking of Ravenwood in a basement in Harvard Square, or a few of my favorites on the outer Cape, or the Book Barn out in the woods of upstate New York. I studied abroad in West Africa, and for the longest time the books I brought with me on that trip smelled like the red earth and city of Bamako. I haven’t done this in a very long time, but sometimes, when I was feeling nostalgic, I’d open the pages and inhale with closed eyes—the scent captured in the pages would always bring me back to when I was 20-years-old and having some of the most profound, beautiful experiences of my life.
If you could raid the closet of any character you’ve read about, who would you pick?
To indulge my fantasy of being a New York socialite I’d love to poke around Holly Golightly’s closet, though I’d probably be more at home in Mariah Wyatt’s clothing, from Play It As It Lays. Just for fun, I’d love to explore Oscar Wilde’s closet, and perhaps ask him to dress me, channeling my inner Colette.
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and what book would you be reading?
For some reason, when I was in college I had very strong romantic associations with Prague. I had even planned a trip, but it fell through and I have still never been to the city. I’d love to go there alone and wander the streets, take in the architecture, and stop at cafes with my journal and book for a glass of wine. The book I’d take with me would be a title by Milan Kundera—any one, or maybe all of them.