On Thursday, Emma Roberts stopped by Pinterest headquarters in San Francisco to spread the word about her online book club Belletrist—yes, she has one—while the visual search engine opened its Pinterest Workshop to facilitate creating things in real life. Pinterest's idea is that if users actually act on the inspirations they Pin on the platform, they’ll be more engaged and stick around longer. Roberts, as it turned out, created the site with co-founder Karah Preiss to be a place for women to feel confident and empowered, and launched it in March with an exclusive interview with Joan Didion, recently the subject of a fascinating documentary on HBO. Roberts, one of the stars of American Horror Story and Scream Queens, and Preiss, who is writer and film producer, encouraged the nattily dressed bloggers in attendance to persevere in pitching business ventures. “Whenever you do something creative, there is always self-doubt, because you’re always putting pieces of yourself into your work,” Roberts said. “Rejection always feels personal.” The two founders told a story of pitching a millennial, female-focused brand to male investors who “were not in [their] target demographic” and who totally missed the point. One guy suggested that with Belletrist, they should “give members candy before giving them kale.” “So what, we’re reading books—but with bikinis on?!” Roberts said. Preiss added, “So how do you make being an intelligent woman appealing? By being intelligent women.” Before trying a hand at stations such as hand-painted wrapping paper and DIY caramel apples, Roberts took a moment to explain why reading, in the digital era, was her raison d’etre.
Pinterest is hoping that users do something material with the inspirations they find online. What’s the role of the analog world, and reading, for you?
When I tell people that we started a book club on Instagram, it sounds like we are contradicting ourselves, but what has been so amazing is that everyone tags us in posts with the physical book. It’s inspiring to see that we built this community on the Internet but people are enjoying having this physical thing and feeling that they are a part of something and accomplishing something.
When you read on your iPad, there is this feeling of, 'Ok, now what?'
As much as we love the Internet, we crave that real-life interaction and touch and that is something that I feel is getting lost. And if I can do anything to keep that alive, I want to, because it’s such an important thing for me. I feel that we live in a time now where we are short-circuiting from our phones. I feel like my brain doesn’t work the way it used to. We always say that books are the only things without notifications. It’s solace. It’s peace.
What role does this play in being a feminist or creating a sense of activism?
What’s been so amazing is to see how Belletrist has inspired young women. My sister is 16 and she is like, “I am not a great reader, but I really want to be a part of your book club.” This is really a place where I want women to feel confident and empowered, and the starting point is books, but you don’t have to be an avid reader or quote unquote the smartest girl. As long as you’re curious, we want a place where you can connect with people and feel good about yourself. As an actress, I am constantly walking into a room full of people I don’t know. When I was younger, it was often a lot of older people—a lot of men—and to me, having read a book was like my armor of knowledge and I always knew I had something I could talk about and I wouldn’t feel insecure or uncomfortable because worst comes to worst, I could talk about what I was reading. Books make you feel like you have something you can contribute.
You often interview the authors you feature. How has that changed the experience?
The fact that I am in a position where I have the privilege that I get to talk to these authors is something that my young reading self is jumping up and down for. We’re really trying to spotlight these amazing female authors who are some of the smartest, most interesting and funny people I have ever met, and I feel like they don’t get the spotlight enough. To be able to show them in real life and not in the back of a book is so interesting. One of the first writers we got to talk to is Ariel Levy, who I just worship. She wrote her email address on a post-it and it’s in my planner now as art. To me, writers are the ultimate celebrity.
Do you get nervous?
Yes, I get nervous, I am nervous right now! It’s totally nerve-racking. I’m an actress and sometimes I have to prove that I’ve read a book or that I like to read. The amount of times that people will walk by me on set and do a double-take and go, “You read?!” People have preconceived notions when you’re an actress, so I make notes when I meet a writer to have certain parts of the book to mention specifically because I want them to know I’ve really read it and it really meant something to me. I am definitely over-prepared.
In your essay on Didion, you say that she “forces you to understand that a journalist is not just somebody who reports the news, but rather someone who makes history.” Any thoughts on the state of journalism these days?
I think that long-form reading is really important. Unfortunately, we live in time where you see a headline and you’ll have to read about seven articles past that in order to get the real story. We have to be more curious now. At least for me, I don’t get my news on short-form social media anymore because you can’t possibly deliver all the facts if there is a character count. I am always searching for the longest article possible to read. My friends and I are constantly sharing real articles. We can all see a headline and start scrambling and freaking out or feeling fine and realizing it’s not fine, but you have to really do your research now. Everyone has to step up and be smarter. You have no choice.
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