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A Dialectic With the Everyday: Communication & Cultural Politics on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club
Unformatted Document Text:  Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 10 The same program also featured videotaped excerpts from previous episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show, in which one unidentified women testified to not having read a novel in two decades; another shared that she had not read any books at all in about a dozen years (Oprah’s book club anniversary party, 1997, p. 3). Similarly, the October 1996 Oprah’s Book Club discussion included an audio excerpt of a letter from an unidentified woman who stated: “I am 46 years old. And until this past year, I have not read more than five books” (Newborn quintuplets come home, 1996, p. 15). 8 Candy Siebert’s provocative statement that “something” about Oprah’s Book Club compelled her to take up books and book reading raises an important question: what about the Club moved women to engage with and read books for the first time in many years, perhaps even for the first time in their lives? Some critics have expressed dismay over the range of titles chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. “Taken individually,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “Oprah’s books run the gamut from absorbing to vacuous” (Crossen, 2001, p. W15). The Journal was troubled, in other words, by the seemingly inconsistent demands Oprah’s Book Club placed on participants in terms of the degree of difficulty of Club selections, which fluctuated between arguably straightforward books like A. Manette Ansay’s Vinegar Hill and Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth, to more intricate, lyrical titles à la Toni Morrison’s Paradise and Song of Solomon or Bernhard Schlink’s understated yet morally complex novel, The Reader. Yet I sense that those who had not read books in many years were drawn to Oprah’s Book Club precisely because of this apparent “inconsistency.” Indeed, Oprah Winfrey Show producers demonstrated remarkable sensitivity toward the range of reading abilities of both actual and potential Club members, and this sensitivity was reflected in the timing and relative degree of difficulty of titles chosen for the Book Club. For example, anticipating that readers might encounter difficulty with Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Club members were granted seven, rather than the customary four, weeks between the announcement of the book and its discussion (Book club – Toni Morrison, 1998, p. 1). 9 But beyond merely acknowledging and making allowances for the fact that certain titles might prove more challenging for readers than others, the

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
10
The same program also featured videotaped excerpts from previous episodes of The Oprah Winfrey
Show, in which one unidentified women testified to not having read a novel in two decades; another
shared that she had not read any books at all in about a dozen years (Oprah’s book club anniversary
party, 1997, p. 3). Similarly, the October 1996 Oprah’s Book Club discussion included an audio
excerpt of a letter from an unidentified woman who stated: “I am 46 years old. And until this past
year, I have not read more than five books” (Newborn quintuplets come home, 1996, p. 15).
8
Candy Siebert’s provocative statement that “something” about Oprah’s Book Club compelled
her to take up books and book reading raises an important question: what about the Club moved
women to engage with and read books for the first time in many years, perhaps even for the first time
in their lives?
Some critics have expressed dismay over the range of titles chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.
“Taken individually,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “Oprah’s books run the gamut from absorbing
to vacuous” (Crossen, 2001, p. W15). The Journal was troubled, in other words, by the seemingly
inconsistent demands Oprah’s Book Club placed on participants in terms of the degree of difficulty of
Club selections, which fluctuated between arguably straightforward books like A. Manette Ansay’s
Vinegar Hill and Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth, to more intricate, lyrical titles à la Toni Morrison’s
Paradise and Song of Solomon or Bernhard Schlink’s understated yet morally complex novel, The
Reader. Yet I sense that those who had not read books in many years were drawn to Oprah’s Book
Club precisely because of this apparent “inconsistency.”
Indeed,
Oprah Winfrey Show producers demonstrated remarkable sensitivity toward the range
of reading abilities of both actual and potential Club members, and this sensitivity was reflected in the
timing and relative degree of difficulty of titles chosen for the Book Club. For example, anticipating
that readers might encounter difficulty with Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Club members were granted
seven, rather than the customary four, weeks between the announcement of the book and its
discussion (Book club – Toni Morrison, 1998, p. 1).
9
But beyond merely acknowledging and making
allowances for the fact that certain titles might prove more challenging for readers than others, the


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