Florence and the Book Club

Leah Moloney is a 19 year-old Psychology student in Trinity, and founder of one of the most popular book clubs in the world, Between Two Books with Florence Welch.

FEATURESAt the age of 15, a tweet Leah Moloney sent out received significant traction. In it, she suggested creating a club where her favourite artist, Florence + the Machine, would recommend various books for her fans to read and engage with. Less than 4 years later, Moloney is in regular contact with Florence Welch, frontwoman of the band, and boasts a total of more than 43,500 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Moloney was recently featured in the Guardian discussing the club, which she founded with her friends, Abbie Whitehead and Heather Hale. It began in 2012 when Welch tweeted a picture of herself outside Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon with the caption “booksbooksbooksbooks”. After Moloney’s tweet, to great surprise, Welch responded offering help and support. “I’ve been a fan since I was 13, so for me to actually get a reply from her at that stage was the biggest thing ever,” Moloney says. “She just didn’t reply to fans, she barely used her Twitter, she was quite elusive and enigmatic – so to get that reply was just crazy.”

Reading list

Shortly after this, Florence was promoting Between Two Books at a gig in Indianapolis, where Welch’s first choice of book, Opposed Positions by Gwendoline Riley, was set. Since then, Welch has chosen 18 different books for the club’s growing number of followers, ranging from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. The Flows (fans of Welch) are currently reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, on the recommendation of the Maccabees and Patti Smith.

Although the project has a huge following, it’s run single-handedly by fans and lacks a timetable for when new books are recommended, reflecting the musician’s erratic schedule. “It’s all through Florence. I am very, very fortunate that she’s so lovely about it and she’s so helpful and kind and anything we need, she’ll do for us. It’s all directly her recommendation.”

Speaking about one of Florence’s most recent choices, Moloney says, “when I was finishing the Leaving Cert we were doing a lot of poetry in school. I really enjoyed it and everyone in my class seemed to hate it. So I went to Florence with an idea and I said it would be really interesting if we could actually do something where we promoted poetry and we showed everyone how amazing it is. Everyone loves song lyrics – poetry is essentially the same thing, it’s a very similar form of writing. So then Florence said “okay we’ll read Mira Gonzales” who’s a young, LA poet. What she writes about is very relevant to people who are students and in their early 20s. Then we also read some Ted Hughes, mixing old and new.”

Challenging choices

Moloney says she is always pleased with Welch’s choices: “When we first started, I was only 15. I would like to think I’ve always had more of a mature taste in literature anyway. But, for example, we read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and that was in the colloquial language of the South in the 30s so it was quite hard to understand. You really had to concentrate on the words. It was mingled with very metaphorical, symbolic, poetic language so I found it really hard to read but at the same time that’s one of my favourite books so it was well worth it.

“I‘m very grateful for that because it means that I’ve been introduced to certain authors I wouldn’t have otherwise been introduced to at that age.” Moloney adds that she would love for her Psychology coursework to inform her reading of the books chosen, remarking, “we studied creativity as part of my thinking module so obviously a lot of that comes into what I’m reading because those writers would be very creative so it’s interesting to see the underlying thought processes.”

Moloney also feels that she is better equipped to manage the book club since she started college: “I think because the Leaving Cert is so focused on getting the points, there’s more leeway to do extra curricular things in college because we’re not under as much pressure. That said, I might change my mind when I’m in third year! But definitely I find that it’s easier now because in 5th and 6th Year, I felt that I had to invest all of my time in just studying for the Leaving Cert.”

Social media

Social media is an integral part of Between Two Books and since its inception Welch herself has become a more active user: “with social media, you can reach such a wide audience, it’s very universal. You’re connected to so many people, which can be a really beautiful thing, even though it can be a bit overwhelming – our Instagram has 27,500 followers, it’s crazy. At the same time it would be lovely, perhaps, if individual little groups could come together and have proper book discussions over wine or tea. I’ve been able to witness first hand the growth of the book club but seeing people properly engage with it – that’s the best thing that’s come out of all this. People have come to me and said “I didn’t think reading was cool to do but because Florence is doing it and you’re doing it, I’ve gotten into it. I’ve realised it’s really enjoyable and it opens up so much.” It’s amazing that I’m working with Florence and using her status for something good, which is advocating a love of literature.”

As with any online venture, trolling is an issue for Between Two Books: “It hasn’t been all smooth running, I’ve seen some less pleasant things. You know as popularity grows, the proportion of people who don’t exactly get along with you or agree with your views is obviously going to get bigger. But luckily, I think it has a lot to do with the demographic that we appeal to, they’re generally really creative, dreamy type people who just want to spread love and such. Hopefully we can keep it that way.”

Creating Between Two Books has afforded Moloney many opportunities. She has met Welch backstage twice when she was performing in Dublin. At her most recent concert, Moloney presented Welch with a set of books on French and Irish mythology, as well as an anthology of D.G. Rossetti’s poetry. She has also considers L.A. band Haim as friends after being introduced to the three girls when they were the support act on Florence + the Machine’s UK arena tour in 2012. Last summer at the Beauregard music festival in Normandy, Welch invited Moloney on stage after recognising her in the crowd. “I hadn’t seen Florence for almost three years. Though I’d been in contact with her, I wasn’t expecting her to recognise me. I was surprised, and she was surprised to see me all the way in France, so it ended up with us giggling at each other in disbelief onstage. I was so delighted to see her and was thrilled to be up onstage with the band.”

Moloney does not envisage any drastic changes in the future and will continue the club’s structure. However, she is open to future collaborations: “Emma Watson only launched her [book club] a couple of weeks ago. I will probably get into that or who knows maybe a future collaboration – watch this space!”

Niamh Lynch

Niamh was Editor of the 65th volume of Trinity News. She is a History and Politics graduate.