NEW YORK (AP) – For her 100th book club pick, Oprah Winfrey relied on the same instinct she’s drawn to since the beginning: What moves her from the story? Does she think about it days later? Do his characters seem real in fiction?
“When I don’t move, it’s always a sign to me that something powerful and dynamic is afoot,” Winfrey told The Associated Press in a recent telephone interview.
On Tuesday, she announced she chose Ann Napolitano’s “Hello Beautiful,” a modern tribute to “Little Women” from the author of the bestselling “Dear Edward.” The novel was published Tuesday by Dial Press, a Penguin Random House imprint, and Winfrey believes that themes of family, resilience and perspective give “Hello Beautiful” a “universal appeal” that makes it an appropriate novel. Builds a milestone.
A Winfrey pick no longer ensures blockbuster sales, but it maintains a special status within the industry; For writers, a call from Winfrey still feels like being told they’ve won an Oscar. Winfrey told the AP she is “in awe” of the club and its history, “the very notion” that someone could go and buy a copy of “Anna Karenina” as she suggested.
Kristen McLean, an analyst with NPD Books who tracks industry sales, says Winfrey is especially effective these days when promoting a well-known author like Barbara Kingsolver and her novel “Damon Copperhead,” which That’s a bestseller since Winfrey.
Since 1996, Winfrey’s book choices have set her on a journey of extraordinary influence and success, frequent innovation and the occasional controversy. It endured through changes for both Winfrey and the publishing industry, through the rise of the Internet and the end of Winfrey’s syndicated talk shows, through the digression into classics and unexpected lessons in the reliability of memoirs and the lack of diversity of book publishing. Is.
Thanks to Winfrey, contemporary authors such as Jacqueline Mitchard and Jane Hamilton found audiences they never imagined, while picks from “Anna Karenina” to “As I Lay Dying” became bestsellers published decades or even centuries ago. ranked high on the list. Winfrey didn’t invent the mass market book club, but she demonstrated that innate passion can inspire people in ways that escape the most sophisticated marketing campaigns.
Her most troubling choices — James Frey’s apocryphal memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” Jeanine Cummins’s “American Dirt,” a novel criticized for its stereotypical portrayal of Mexican people — made so much news in part because of the spotlight of a Winfrey endorsement. .
The club began as an extension of a conversation between him and Alice McGee, his producer at the time. They talked about books they liked, until McGee suggested in 1996 that Winfrey share the experience with her audience. The first choice, Mitchard’s “The Deep End of the Ocean”, has sold over 2 million copies. Other books also became major bestsellers, whether by established authors such as Joyce Carol Oates (“We Were the Mulvaneys”) and Toni Morrison (“The Bluest Eye”) or emerging authors such as Janet Fitch and Tawny O’Dell. Have gone
The club was so popular that some suspected a catch. Winfrey remembers that Quincy Jones asked her: “How much are they paying you for that book club, baby?” The process was so informal that at first Winfrey didn’t even bother to go through intermediaries.
“I would just say Wally Lamb,” she says of the author of “She’s Come Undone,” her fourth selection. “Early on, I used to finish the book and then find the author. When you go to the back of the book, it gives you the biography of the author and it tells you which city the author lives in. And , this is when we had phone books, in every instance I was able to get the author’s phone number because the author was listed.
Winfrey’s system is only a little more structured now. Leigh Newman, book director of online/print publication Oprah Daily, will call the publisher first and arrange a “surprise call” with the author and Oprah. Winfrey’s staff would research the author’s background to ensure that no problems would arise – whether criminal charges or accusations of plagiarism. The vetting began, Winfrey says, after “A Million Little Pieces” turned out to be enough lies that led to an extraordinary public scolding from Winfrey, when she brought Frey back on her show to explain herself. (They have since reconciled).
“I took it personally,” she says. “I probably shouldn’t have taken it so personally, but I felt like he let me down and I let the audience down. … I was just saying, ‘Can you believe this is a true story? ?’ And shouting that from the rooftops. I felt foolish for doing this, ashamed for doing this.
Winfrey’s book choices are still internal and intimate—mostly determined by just herself and Newman—though Winfrey says she made a rare exception for “Hello Beautiful,” which was recommended to her by Creative Arts Agency chairman Richard Lovett. . Otherwise, Newman will seek out books that he thinks might be Winfrey’s answer—fiction or nonfiction, as long as the story is “compelling,” Newman explains. Winfrey would also come to the books on her own.
The club doesn’t follow any real formula. For the first few years, Winfrey averaged approximately one selection per month, a pace that she began to find tiresome. He put the club on hold for 2002–2003, focused on older works in 2004–2005, and picked up only one or two titles in the other years. After her talk show ended in 2011, she launched Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 the following year, with an emphasis on digital media.
She is currently aiming for a new book every eight weeks, with author interviews and interactive reader discussions being featured on OprahDaily.com. Winfrey has no plans to stop, and no specific goals for selection. After “American Dirt”, released in early 2020, she vowed to open herself “to more Latinx books”. But she hasn’t chosen anyone for her club since then and isn’t committing herself to the future.
“I would never choose a book because the author is Hispanic, or black, or Indian. I’m not being put in that box,” she says. “The book has to live for me on many different levels. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great books from authors of every race and creed. It just means I haven’t seen one yet (for the club). But we’ve been thinking about it and I’ve come close a few times.
Winfrey’s choice at times is influenced by a relatively recent trend – competition.
Over the years, Reese Witherspoon and Jenna Bush Hager have demonstrated that they, too, can win the trust of large numbers of readers, whether it’s Witherspoon’s opening promotion for Delia Owens’ blockbuster “Where the Crawdads Sing” or Donna Tartt’s Reviving interest in the 1990s bestseller “The Secret History.” Youth’s enthusiasm for TikTok has helped make Colleen Hoover the nation’s most popular fiction writer.
Winfrey is dignified: If she hears that a book she might choose is also being pursued by Witherspoon or Hager, she’ll back off and pick another. But she also claims her place. Yes, Witherspoon, Hager, and Booktalk’s kids are all great, but let’s not forget who came first.
“We started this conversation,” she says. “And I’m very proud of that.”
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