Book Smart Tulsa: Not Your Average Book Club

Managing Editor

CELEBRITY READING: B.J. Novak, actor and author, reads from his book “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” on March 13. The event was hosted by Book Smart Tulsa, a book club created by Jeff Martin that has brought in many other well-known names since beginning in 2009, including food writer James Oseland, actor, producer and director Crispin Glover and author David Sedaris.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

When I was little, like a lot of children my age, ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, if the perpetual book in my face didn’t answer the question, my quick response of “author” would.

While my dream to write fiction stories along the lines of Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley Twins didn’t quite pan out, I find solace that I ended up in the ballpark, and judging from the high traffic I regularly see at the library and book stores, I don’t doubt that there still exist many youngsters dreaming of the day when they publish their first novel.

Another proof of Americans’, and more specifically Tulsans’, love of reading is the growth and popularity of Book Smart Tulsa, a local literary organization that has morphed into more than the traditional idea of a book discussion group.
After listening to founder Jeff Martin detail some of the club’s activities, though, it’s sounding more like a regular must-attend event.

The group began with Martin’s idea for a citywide book club and had its first meeting at McNellie’s in 2009. “I had the idea that people would drink a beer and chat about a book,” says Martin. “I was hoping for 50 to 60 people, but we ended up with 400.”

But while the original turnout was good, numbers began to decline, and Martin began brainstorming ways to appeal to different groups of individuals. He came up with what he calls the visiting author series, doing just what the name implies: bringing authors to town in various genres such as mystery, science, fiction and cooking.

Since then, Book Smart Tulsa has featured well-known names such as food writer James Oseland, actor, producer and director Crispin Glover, author David Sedaris and B.J. Novak from The Office fame.

Martin’s aim is twofold: to expose everyone involved to new experiences, he says, audience members to new authors and ideas and the visiting writers to Tulsa.
However, even Tulsans sometimes need some hometown education-this is often done through the venues that Martin chooses: the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, B’nai Emunah Synagogue and the Fab Lab.

However, it’s goes without saying that the out-of-state visitors that receive the greatest treat and biggest surprise of what Tulsa has to offer.

With each visiting speaker, Martin takes him/her to various Tulsa locations based on their interests.

When Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, visited, Martin took him to Gilcrease Museum. “He’s from Canada and hadn’t been exposed to much Native American art,” Martin says. “He spent hours in there; he took his time and really looked at the art. Seeing his reaction made me look at the exhibits differently.”

When B.J. Novak visited in March, he spent time in the Brady Arts District, stopping in at the Valkyrie and Laffa.

Referencing Novak’s event, Martin points out the amount of groups that were able to get involved and benefit from the event: local artists made a promotional poster and t-shirts for the event, a local children’s choir sang and Elote offered a cash bar. “We ended up creating an experience,” he says.

That overall theme of positively affecting Tulsans and our city is no better illustrated than in the case of James Oseland, the editor-in-chief for Saveur magazine. Martin took him to various local spots including Juniper to have a dinner prepared by Chef Justin Thompson.

Following Oseland’s experience, in February 2013, Juniper was featured in Saveur’s top 100 food destinations, putting a national spotlight on the city and local businesses, says Martin.

“That all happened because he came here for Book Smart. Those are the things we hope to continue to create.”

Updated 05-27-2014

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