Author Jennifer Weiner Leads Baking and Book Clubs Online

Jennifer Weiner
Jennifer Weiner is the author of 14 novels and, for now, the host of virtual book clubs and challah-making workshops. (Photo by Andrea Cipriani Mecchi)

Author Jennifer Weiner has written 14 novels. The level of alone time necessary to achieve that output is probably best measured in years.

So even if it’s not her preferred state, Weiner is accustomed to solitude; she knows she can thrive in spite of it precisely because she’s spent so much time thriving because of it.

Quarantining, sheltering-in-place, hunkering down, being “alone together” … however grimly or euphemistically you put it, nearly 4 billion people have been asked to practice social isolation in one form or another.

Upending and alien to most, life in the time of COVID-19 is like a day in the park for Weiner — or more like a day not in the park.

“I’ve been telling everybody that this is my life; this is their chance to experience what it’s like for me every day,” Weiner said.  “Ordinarily I’ll go to yoga or maybe go out to lunch with a friend or something, but a lot of times I’m just here, up in my closet, writing.”

This makes Weiner uniquely suited to teach the rest of us how to do it gracefully, with a sense of humor, a thirst for books and an appetite for challah.

Challah? That’s right. When the claustrophobia of home life with no escape hatch makes most want to scream, it makes Weiner want to challah. Specifically, make challah — that’s the cathartic part for Weiner.

The last several Friday afternoons, in anticipation of Shabbat, Weiner has hosted her challah-making workshop, which she’s titled “Makes Me Wanna Challah,” on Facebook Live and Instagram.

These virtual community baking workshops have been popular with Weiner’s fans, drawing huge online audiences. The April 3 broadcast has been viewed more than 8,400 times.

“I bake pretty much every Friday — that’s not new. What is new is inviting the whole world in to watch my screw-ups,” Weiner said. “But I love to bake and I like the idea that we’re all connecting around cooking, around baking, around this ritual that I feel connects me to my own mother and my own grandmother.”

Weiner’s streaming star turn hasn’t been limited to challah making; she’s also used people’s newly rooted circumstances as occasion to start a virtual book club.

The “Baby Got Back(listed) Book Club,” where the group reads a Weiner-penned selection and has a live (virtual) discussion with author, meets every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and will continue to do so, she said, for “the duration of the quarantine or her backlist (i.e. the novels she’s published) — whichever ends first.”

The book club, thus far, has tackled “Mrs. Everything,” “Good in Bed” and “In Her Shoes.”

She’s also read from her forthcoming novel “Big Summer” (out May 5), the release date for which she and publisher Simon and Schuster recently decided to make two weeks earlier than originally announced, bucking a trend that has seen many releases pushed back to the fall.

The earlier release date allows Weiner to give her fans something to look forward to at a moment when they’ll need it.

“As I wrote it, I was thinking, with the election stuff coming up … people are going to need a break from that. I never thought that what people would be needing a break from would be a global pandemic, but we just decided, ‘Hey look, this book is fun. It’s light and it’s breezy and that’s what people need right now, and let’s just get it to them.’”

“And if I can throw some of these independent bookstores a little bit of a lifeline, where they’ll get some orders to ship,” she added, “that would be a mitzvah.”

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