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The Only Good Thing About Twitter Is the Star Tribune’s Book Room Video Series

Everyone loves a good mail day. With this series, you’re guaranteed at least one a week. 

Screenshots from Twitter: @StribGoingOut

We don’t need to tell you how bad things have gotten on Twitter since a certain suave and not at all annoying billionaire took the reins last year. 

Anymore, Twitter—sorry, “X” *rolls eyes so far back in head that they may be permanently stuck that way*—is a real bummer to be on. The site is not only functionally terrible—just this week, news stories began appearing sans headline or identifying information—but also generally bad, overrun by Nazis and alt-right freaks who spend their days, for example, engaging in targeted harassment campaigns against the girlfriend of a young man who was murdered in front of her because he didn’t hate homeless people enough or something.

Anyway.

What I’m saying is, moments of zen on the app have never been so few or so far between. Which might help explain why, when my colleague Keith Harris shared a pleasant video filmed in the Star Tribune’s book room earlier this summer—and when we then discovered that the video was part of a series—they quickly became an object of obsession among the Racket staff.

Posted weekly on the @stribgoingout account, the videos feature Star Tribune books editor Chris Hewitt opening a few of the new books the paper got in the mail that week. He shares a bit of context for each, whether it’s a fun fact about the author or info about when the Strib plans to cover it, and then tears into another package. The clips are typically around two minutes long and calming in the way you might find Joe Pera Talks With You calming (if that sort of thing appeals to you).

Watching these videos has become the Racket staff’s favorite weekly ritual, and its host, Hewitt, is now something of a microcelebrity to us. I’m not kidding—we love these. Allow me to give you a peek behind the curtain. Here’s Keith discovering the book room videos in June:

Here’s an update from July:

And another from just last month:

That last vid made me realize I had to get Hewitt on the phone, if only to tell him how much the videos have brightened our little corner of the internet. 

Hewitt is characteristically humble about the series’ moderate success, and about our obsession with it. When I mention, in an initial email, that I like the videos’ “understated, warm vibes,” he quips that that’s “a very nice way to say ‘unrehearsed and ummm-filled.’”

Hewitt says he’s always loved the book room at the Star Tribune’s downtown Minneapolis offices. Former books editor Laurie Hertzel let him enter the literary sanctum a few times before he took over the job. “I always called it the treasure room,” he says.

In early May, Hewitt took over editing the book section from Hertzel, and the first book opening video we can find was published in mid-June.

“One of the things, when I took over, that I was asked, was to try to increase the online presence of the books coverage,” Hewitt explains. He muses that books coverage likely does well in the paper—that’s how many book-loving Strib subscribers prefer to read the news—but reaching online readers was trickier.

Since that initial clip, Hewitt has filmed one each Friday, though sometimes they’re shared a little after. (The posts might even shift to Tuesdays to better accommodate everyone’s schedule, which would fit anyway, as that’s when books actually come out.)

Maybe it’s because we love books, or newspapers, or even social media, but there’s something about the series that just tickles us. There’s the feeling of excitement and anticipation—what will that bright-yellow package designed to look like an emoji contain? There’s a nostalgic element too, a reminder of a time when the little box on your house was a portal of possibility, not unlike a book. A time when there was still an element of mystery to the mail.

“One of my coworkers, Rochelle Olson, I think, reposted [my first video] and commented, ‘It’s like you’re opening up Christmas presents,’” Hewitt recalls.

Plus, as anyone with an enthusiasm for online shopping will tell you, it’s just fun to get little treats in the mail. “Probably, going into the book room is a good way for me to not indulge in too much retail therapy—I get to open things I didn’t even have to pay for,” Hewitt says. Everyone loves a good mail day, and with the book room videos, you’re guaranteed at least one a week. 

Hewitt estimates that he knows maybe about half of the books going in, or can at least make an educated guess. “I’ll know when the new Barbara Streisand autobiography comes in, because—well, for one thing, it’s 1,000 pages, so it’s gonna be the heaviest book we get all year,” he says. He does some curation to keep each week’s video interesting for the Twitter account’s 69,000 followers, but for the most part it’s an on-the-fly, off-the-cuff look inside the book room. 

“It’s just me and my phone in the book room—at first, I had no idea if anybody would even actually look at it,” Hewitt says, adding that the behind-the-scenes looks average about 4,000 views each week. “More, if Maria Bamford retweets it.”

“It’s weirdly feels like this sort of private thing that ends up getting shared. Which I guess is a metaphor for what social media is in general,” he continues. 

Author Ann Patchett, whom Hewitt introduced at a "Talking Volumes" event last week, told him she does a similar book-opening series at her Nashville bookstore, Parnassus—though those are posted on TikTok. And someday, Hewitt’s videos might end up there as well, as Twitter feels increasingly precarious.

Wherever you find him, Hewitt’s enthusiasm for new books won’t change. He brings a lifelong love of reading to his role at the Strib, which you can hear in his voice throughout these book room videos. Maybe you remember hearing about his Agatha Christie project from a few years back? When he read all of her books and documented it on a blog he called “Chris and Christie,” à la Julie and Julia?

To Hewitt, there’s excitement in each book he opens—even if it ends up being something the Star Tribune won’t cover, or he won’t read. 

And there’s a practical element at play, too. Hewitt estimates that the paper can cover an average of around six books a week; during that time, they might receive 60 or so books in the mail. (“You have no idea how many people are self-publishing memoirs about their grandfather,” he quips.) So the videos are a fun way to highlight books that might not otherwise make it into the paper.

“I have a huge amount of enthusiasm for that pile of books I get to see every day,” he says. 

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