Have You Read an Oprah Book Club Pick?

Oprah’s Book Club instantly had an astounding effect on readers across the country and on the entire publishing industry. Here are a few select passages from Kitty Kelley’s just-released biography Oprah addressing the origins of the book club and how it developed over the years, followed after the video, by a complete list of Oprah’s Book Club picks.

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When Oprah started her book club in 1996 she gave all of her authors “the love treatment,” and her enthusiastic endorsements sent their books charging up The New York Times bestseller list, a button-busting experience for any writer. Oprah’s Book Club became a national sensation that enshrined her as a cultural icon while energizing publishers, enriching authors, and enlightening viewers. Yet when Alice McGee had first suggested in a memo that Oprah do a book club on the air, she did not think it would work. She worried about the ratings. “We’ll get horrible numbers,” she said. “We’ll bomb. . . . Over the years we’ve tried to do fiction and always died in the ratings.”

But after Oprah received a gold medal from the National Book Foundation and an Honor from the Association of American Publishers, was named Person of the Year by the Literary Market Place, dubbed by Newsweek as the most important person in the world of books and media, and lauded as a “Library Lion” of the New York Public Library, she framed McGee’s memo and hung it on her office wall.

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“I want to get the country reading,” said Oprah, who recognized her power as a cultural force. For the next six years she chose books that mirrored her own interests, which some critics called “middlebrow,” “sentimental,” and “commercial.” Mostly she chose sad stories written by women about women who survived misery and pain to find redemption. They were women like her, who triumphed over sexual abuse, careless mothering, racism, poverty, unrequited love, weak men, unwanted pregnancy, drugs, even obesity. “Reading is like everything else,” Oprah said. “You’re drawn to people who are like yourself.”

Within the first year, Oprah’s Book Club had sold almost twelve million copies of contemporary fiction, a genre that typically sold no more than a few thousand copies per title per year, and according to Publishing Trends, an industry newsletter, she was responsible for $130 million in book sales. Consequently, she became known as “The Midas of the Midlist” for her ability to turn modestly successful novels into raging bestsellers.

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Watch Kitty Kelley talk about her unprecedented access to Oprah’s family and friends and the other sources she used in writing her biography.

1. The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
2. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
3. The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton
4. She’s Come Undone, byWally Lamb
5. Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi
6. The Rapture of Canaan, by Sheri Reynolds
7. The Heart of a Woman, by Maya Angelou
8. Songs in Ordinary Time, by Mary McGarry Morris
9. A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines
10. Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons
11. A Virtuous Woman, by Kaye Gibbons
12. TheMeanest Thing to Say, by Bill Cosby
13. The Treasure Hunt, by Bill Cosby
14. The Best Way to Play, by Bill Cosby
15. Paradise, by Toni Morrison
16. Here on Earth, by Alice Hoffman
17. Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen
18. Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat
19. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
20. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, by Pearl Cleage
21. Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian
22. Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
23. Jewel, by Bret Lott
24. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink
25. The Pilot’s Wife, by Anita Shreve
26. White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
27. Mother of Pearl, by Melinda Haynes
28. Tara Road, by Maeve Binchy
29. River, Cross My Heart, by Breena Clarke
30. Vinegar Hill, by A.Manette Ansay
31. AMap of the World, by Jane Hamilton
32. Gap Creek, by Robert Morgan
33. Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
34. Back Roads, by Tawni O’Dell
35. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
36. While I Was Gone, by Sue Miller
37. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
38. Open House, by Elizabeth Berg
39. Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz
40. House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III
41. We Were theMulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates
42. Icy Sparks, by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
43. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, by Malika Oufkir
44. Cane River, by Lalita Tademy
45. The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
46. A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
47. Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
48. Sula, by Toni Morrison
49. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
50. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
51. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
52. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
53. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
54. The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
55. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
56. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
57. Light in August, by William Faulkner
58. AMillion Little Pieces, by James Frey
59. Night, by Elie Wiesel
60. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, by Sidney Poitier
61. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
62. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
63. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
64. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
65. A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
66. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

We want to hear what you think of Oprah’s Book Club picks. Do you have any favorites? Does your book club read them? Why or why not? How would you describe Oprah’s taste in fiction? Post a comment to enter for the chance to win a copy of Kitty Kelley’s Oprah. Your book group could be featured in an upcoming issue of Read It Forward! Winners chosen at random. Limited quantities. No purchase necessary.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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