You have no idea, NO IDEA, how happy I was to see this little article first thing in the morning.
Oprah's Book Club Reopening to Writers Who'll Sit and Chat
By EDWARD WYATT
The New York Times
September 23, 2005
Oprah Winfrey said yesterday that she was expanding her highly influential television book club to include the works of contemporary authors, reversing a policy of choosing only classic novels and once again offering authors and their publishers the hope of huge sales resulting from her picks.
"I wanted to open the door and broaden the field," Ms. Winfrey said in an interview. "That allows me the opportunity to do what I like to do most, which is sit and talk to authors about their work. It's kind of hard to do that when they're dead."
As her first selection under the new criteria, Ms. Winfrey chose "A Million Little Pieces," by James Frey, a harrowing 2003 memoir about the author's stay in a treatment center to address his alcoholism and drug addiction.
From 1996 to 2002, a book's selection for Oprah's Book Club typically resulted in sales of more than a million copies, a boon to authors and publishers in a business where selling 20,000 copies of a literary novel is considered a success. Her picks drew readers both to well-regarded authors like Toni Morrison and to relative unknowns like Wally Lamb and Anita Shreve.
Ms. Winfrey abandoned the book club in 2002 but restarted it a year later in a different form, choosing only classic novels, mostly by authors long dead. While sales soared for some of her classic picks, like "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck, others did not reach expectations, most notably this summer's selection of three novels by William Faulkner.
In an interview, Ms. Winfrey, who does not profit from the sales of the books she chooses, acknowledged that some recent selections did not draw the enthusiasm of some of her early ones. In a break with the past, no shows this summer were devoted to the Faulkner books; rather, she had extensive materials available on her Internet site (www.oprah.com).
Ms. Winfrey said she intended to widen her choices to an array of genres, including history, biography and historical fiction, to give herself more room to follow her instincts about what makes a positive reading experience.
"For six years, I couldn't really read any nonfiction or biography because I thought I was wasting my time" by spending hours on a book that did not fit her book club format, she said. "Now, when I read something really interesting or promising, I can find a way to introduce it to the public." Her aides say she alone reads potential selections and makes the choice.
Publishers were quick to welcome the announcement yesterday.
"It is fabulous news," said Jane Friedman, the chief executive of HarperCollins. "I think her impact will be as great if not greater than it was initially," when she began her book club shows in 1996.
Sonny Mehta, the chairman of the Knopf Publishing Group at Random House Inc., which has published more than a third of the 58 books chosen for Oprah's Book Club, said the book club had "brought the act of reading home to people in a way that publishers have not always been successful at doing."
"The fact that she had 300,000 people reading William Faulkner over the summer - she should be given a cabinet post," he added.
But Ms. Winfrey's recent emphasis on classics has contributed to a drop in her book club's popularity, said Kathleen Rooney, the author of "Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America" (University of Arkansas Press, 2005).
"There wasn't the widespread enthusiasm that was evident when she was picking contemporary fiction and nonfiction" for the club, Ms. Rooney said.
That led a group of mostly female writers to send a petition to Ms. Winfrey this year, asking her to return to her advocacy of contemporary writing and citing evidence that sales of fiction began to drop about the time her book club went on hiatus in 2002.
Meg Wolitzer, a novelist who was one of the early signers of the petition, said Ms. Winfrey's effect on authors, particularly novelists, "was to make us feel relevant," whether they were chosen for the club or not.
"To have somebody with a really loud mouth and a lot of power saying to people, 'You need to read this,' is important," she added.
Ms. Winfrey said she was aware of the petition and was moved by it. When she stopped choosing contemporary books, Ms. Winfrey said she was struggling to find enough titles that she felt compelled to share with her viewers, a statement that angered many publishers. But the change also followed by a few months a highly public quarrel with Jonathan Franzen, whose novel "The Corrections" was chosen by Ms. Winfrey in September 2001.
After Mr. Franzen made public comments suggesting that her choices were unsophisticated and appealed mainly to women, she revoked an invitation for him to appear on her show.
Ms. Winfrey dismissed the notion that his remarks influenced her decision to drop the book club. "Jonathan Franzen was not even a blip on the radar screen of my life," she said. "I didn't think one day about it."
Mr. Frey, whose memoir was published by Anchor Books, said he received a call about a month ago asking if he would appear on a show about drug rehabilitation. After he accepted, Ms. Winfrey got on the phone and told him her intention to recommend the book.
"I was shocked and thrilled and had this sort of amazing and surreal moment," he said.
Mr. Frey and Ms. Winfrey then conspired to have Mr. Frey's mother, who he said had given him copies of many of Ms. Winfrey's picks in the past, in the audience for yesterday's show. When Ms. Winfrey started talking about her son's book, the author's mother started to scream, "That's my son!"
Jonathan Franzen is an asshole. Being a published author means that your work will be vetted by the entire world--and that includes bored housewives! You have no right to dictate who should or should not read your book. And, in any case, Oprah has single-handedly brought the attention of the world to bear on contemporary authors that richly deserve that attention. No way, commercialism of her book club or no, can this be seen as anything other than a good thing.EDIT:
Here's a link to Oprah's Book Club
. Check out the complete list of her past selections.