LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
If you've ever been in a book club, you know that they can be as much about socializing as they are about reading books - not so for some readers in Iowa, Democrats specifically, who have over 20 presidential candidates to get to know. That makes for a big stack of candidate autobiographies. An ambitious book club is poring through some. NPR's Sarah McCammon travelled to Des Moines and went to - and went for a read-along.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It starts out like any other campaign event. Voters settle into chairs in a college classroom. The tech crew tinkers with microphones and cameras.
ANDREA PHILLIPS: All right, thank you all for coming.
MCCAMMON: Andrea Phillips, with the Iowa Democratic Party, greets everyone and ticks through the speaker's bio.
PHILLIPS: Julian Castro was the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama.
MCCAMMON: But Phillips acknowledges some of the voters here already know this stuff because some of them have been doing their homework.
PHILLIPS: Those of you who've read the book know even more details about him.
MCCAMMON: At this book club, the members expect their guests to have done their homework too. Before turning to serious matters, like education and housing, Phillips reads off a question from a reader watching Castro through a livestream.
PHILLIPS: So her question for you is, what is your favorite book?
JULIAN CASTRO: Well...
MCCAMMON: Castro thinks for a second, mentions a nonfiction favorite and then turns to fiction, like "The Godfather."
CASTRO: Read the book, which was better than the movie.
CASTRO: I read "The Exorcist," actually.
MCCAMMON: This is a crowd of readers, after all, as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker seemed to be well-aware when he addressed the book club last month by phone.
CORY BOOKER: I am a bit of a reader-aholic (ph).
MCCAMMON: While the candidates might have to prove they're bookworm bona fides, the real point of the club is to help Iowans make sense of a huge pool of potential Democratic nominees. And that means a lot of books - one every three weeks.
ANN REZARCH: I've read part of the book. I can't read all the books because there's going to be too many. So I'm reading them partway through.
MCCAMMON: Ann Rezarch (ph) from Windsor Heights, Iowa, says so far she's working through memoirs by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Booker and former HUD Secretary Castro. Rezarch says she's well-aware of why these books were written. But she likes reading the candidates' backstories.
REZARCH: Of course they wrote the books knowing that they were going to be either running for president or some lesser office. But, you know, you can tell that that's there. But it's a story. You know, they're telling a story. And that's a different approach.
MCCAMMON: More than 700 people have signed up for the club, which is inviting the candidates to address readers in person or on the phone. Brad Hopkins (ph), an attorney from Des Moines, says this group is quite a bit more focused than the standard book club.
BRAD HOPKINS: I was in a book club for a time. We talked very little about the books. And there was more alcohol involved at those.
MCCAMMON: At the event in Des Moines this week, Hopkins asked Castro about sections of his autobiography that describe his childhood in San Antonio. Hopkins says reading the book first makes for a richer experience in person.
HOPKINS: After you go to enough of these events and see enough candidates, you get used to just hearing a stump speech or versions of it. And this is a different way to interact and get to know them.
MCCAMMON: But Hopkins says he won't read all the candidate memoirs either. The weather's getting warmer here, and he says even the most engaged Iowa voter would rather spend some time outside than with his nose in a bunch of books.
Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Des Moines.
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