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ISSUE 115 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/19/2002

The end of Oprah's book club raises questions about fiction's future

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer


Friday, April 19, 2002

The little gold “O” that once graced the shelves of Walmart, Barnes &Noble, and local independently-owned book sellers shall be no more. Oprah Winfrey recently announced her decision to discontinue her book club, a series of monthly reading recommendations featured on her television show. Oprah's Book Club, initiated in 1996, launched a six-year publishing phenomenon. Works selected by Winfrey enjoyed instantaneous best-seller status. Winfrey introduced traditionally hailed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou to a public who may have otherwise shied away from tackling literary classics. At the same time, she brought lesser-known authors to the forefront, providing them with expanded readership and wider recognition. Explaining her decision, Winfrey stated that "it's become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I am really passionate about&and I refuse to recommend a book that I haven't personally read." Winfrey added that when works truly resound with her, she will forward her recommendation, but it will not be promoted in the book club format. Although Winfrey herself makes no comment on the subject, some fans and critics have speculated that the decision was motivated at least in part by a controversy that arose in October 2001. When Winfrey announced her selection of Jonathan Franzen's book "The Corrections," the author declined, expressing his concern that association with Winfrey's label would imply a submission to endorsement of corporate ownership. Franzen, whose book had won awards and been a best-seller prior to Winfrey's selection, considered himself as emerging in the world of high literary art, and worried that Winfrey's recommendation would restrict his reading audience to Winfrey's typical middle-aged female viewers. Winfrey was frequently criticized for selecting books addressing the oppression of females and the female search for identity. In one interview, Franzen claimed that her selections were often "schmaltzy and one-dimensional." While Winfrey did not retract this recommendation from her list, she graciously withdrew her invitation for Franzen to appear on the show. Despite the controversy, the book club will be missed, both by publishers and Winfrey's fans. The online book club discussion board features entries from thousands of viewers thanking her for her selections, her inspiration to read, and begging Winfrey to reconsider her decision. Publishing companies that could rely on raking in a steady profit by emblazoning the gold “O” on their covers also will be undoubtedly disappointed. Winfrey considers the book club one of her crowning accomplishments, expressing that personal growth and development is her foremost goal  and her book club succeeded in fostering that spirit. If you would like to read finds from Oprah’s book club, a complete book list is available at Oprah.com.





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