While walking through a grid of aisles encasing stacks of literature, the covers of certain books may quickly catch a reader’s attention, especially if a book is donned with a coveted stamp of approval. Occasionally, a circular golden emblem will symbolize a novel’s great literary achievement. However, it is Oprah Winfrey’s stamp of approval currently validating works of literature.
Labeled the biggest book club in the world, Oprah’s Book Club has captivated an elusive segment of America’s population, an audience generally known to tune into reality television, dramatic hour-long television shows and common thirty-minute sitcoms rather than open a book.
Oprah, arguably the most popular television figure in the world and one of the wealthiest women across the globe, chose a mixture of literary classics and contemporary best-sellers to become inaugurated into her elite book club. Over the span of its 10-year duration, Oprah’s Book Club has popularized reading within her audience demographic.
In 1996, the talk-show host’s loyal audience of mainly female viewers was introduced to Oprah’s Book Club. In its first year, Oprah’s Book Club assigned three books: Jane Hamilton’s “The Book of Ruth,” Jacquelyn Mitchard’s “The Deep End of the Ocean” and Toni Morrison’s critically praised and highly symbolic “Song of Solomon.”
An acclaimed novelist, Morrison is a favorite in Oprah’s Book Club; Oprah has selected four of Morrison’s novels. Other notable selections in the club’s early years include “White Oleander” by Janet Finch, “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb, “Black and Blue” by Anna Quindlen and “House of Sand and Fog” by Andres Dubus III.
The primary focus of Oprah’s Book Club’s selection switched from contemporary to classic novels in 2003. Oprah’s widespread reading group delved into John Steinbeck’s American classic, “East of Eden,” as well as Alan Paton’s work about the apartheid in South Africa, “Cry, Beloved Country. ” In 2004, the talk-show host assigned Leo Tolstoy’s Russian classic “Anna Karenina” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s groundbreaking work of magical realism, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
A year later, Oprah’s Book Club ambitiously chose three William Faulkner works, including “The Sound and the Fury,” which is commonly considered the most complicated work of American fiction. Readers soon grew tired of Oprah’s elevation of classic novels over contemporary works. After fans and writers sent a petition to Oprah’s Book Club, it began re-exploring contemporary works.
When Oprah selected James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” in 2005, the sobering and stunning memoir about overcoming drug addiction catapulted to the top of readers’ lists. After initially supporting Frey despite an aggressive attack on the author’s credibility, Oprah invited Frey to her show several months later and chastised the author for inventing many of the significant details of his memoir. Though the talk-show host revoked her support for the now-infamous author, the hour-long show served as a catalyst for an important discussion on the definition of memoir and the authority of memoirists and autobiographers.
While Oprah has been criticized for choosing only sentimental works, Oprah’s Book Club continues to keep the country moving their eyes across the pages of many quality books. The most recent book, Elie Wiesel’s award-winning biography “Night,” reached the top spot in non-fiction paperbacks segment of the New York Times Bestseller’s List in February 2006. Clearly, Oprah not only holds the eyes of millions of television viewers, but also thousands of consumers’ eyes at the bookshop.