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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 11 choice of specific selections often was directly influenced by the relative difficulty of the preceding one. Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader was followed by Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife, which Winfrey described repeatedly as a “quick read” in contrast to the previous selection (Oprah’s book club, 1999, Mach 31, p. 21). Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible similarly was followed by Elizabeth Berg’s Open House. Winfrey revealed the rationale behind the decision to select Berg’s book at the time that she announced it for the Club. “[A]s I’ve been saying, this book is really going to be a breeze. I thought after reading over 500 pages, we needed something lighter. For those of you who want a break from heavy reading, our Book Club [selection] this month is Open House by Elizabeth Berg” (Oprah’s book club, 2000, August 23, p. 20). The intense frustration many members of Oprah’s Book Club felt towards the September 1999 selection, Melinda Haynes’ Mother of Pearl, provides by far the richest example illustrating how the relative degree of difficulty of Club selections affected the choice of subsequent books. When announcing Mother of Pearl in June 1999, Winfrey anticipated some of the difficulties readers might encounter with the book but encouraged them to persevere. Mother of Pearl “is layered,” she observed, “which means that in the beginning you’re thinking, ‘Where is this going’” (Oprah’s book club: White Oleander, 1999, pp. 14-15)? And at the conclusion of the program she re-emphasized: “It’s not a fast read, again. The first few chapters may challenge you, so stay with it until the flood. Hang in there until the flood, OK? You’ve got all summer to read it” (Oprah’s book club: White Oleander, 1999, p. 17). When the Book Club reconvened in September, Winfrey reiterated her caveats from the beginning of summer. “I warned you-all,” she stated, “it wasn’t an easy book, but my feeling was that you have the whole summer. There are no deadlines. You can take your time” (Oprah’s book club, 1999, September 9, p. 8). Still, Winfrey’s warnings did not manage to defuse readers’ strong reactions to the book. But rather than trying to conceal the fact that many Club members disliked Mother of Pearl, producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show opted instead to air readers’ frustrations in an audio montage on the September program:

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
11
choice of specific selections often was directly influenced by the relative difficulty of the preceding
one. Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader was followed by Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife, which
Winfrey described repeatedly as a “quick read” in contrast to the previous selection (Oprah’s book
club, 1999, Mach 31, p. 21). Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible similarly was followed by
Elizabeth Berg’s Open House. Winfrey revealed the rationale behind the decision to select Berg’s
book at the time that she announced it for the Club. “[A]s I’ve been saying, this book is really going
to be a breeze. I thought after reading over 500 pages, we needed something lighter. For those of you
who want a break from heavy reading, our Book Club [selection] this month is Open House by
Elizabeth Berg” (Oprah’s book club, 2000, August 23, p. 20).
The intense frustration many members of Oprah’s Book Club felt towards the September
1999 selection, Melinda Haynes’ Mother of Pearl, provides by far the richest example illustrating how
the relative degree of difficulty of Club selections affected the choice of subsequent books. When
announcing Mother of Pearl in June 1999, Winfrey anticipated some of the difficulties readers might
encounter with the book but encouraged them to persevere. Mother of Pearl “is layered,” she
observed, “which means that in the beginning you’re thinking, ‘Where is this going’” (Oprah’s book
club: White Oleander, 1999, pp. 14-15)? And at the conclusion of the program she re-emphasized:
“It’s not a fast read, again. The first few chapters may challenge you, so stay with it until the flood.
Hang in there until the flood, OK? You’ve got all summer to read it” (Oprah’s book club: White
Oleander, 1999, p. 17). When the Book Club reconvened in September, Winfrey reiterated her
caveats from the beginning of summer. “I warned you-all,” she stated, “it wasn’t an easy book, but
my feeling was that you have the whole summer. There are no deadlines. You can take your time”
(Oprah’s book club, 1999, September 9, p. 8).
Still, Winfrey’s warnings did not manage to defuse readers’ strong reactions to the book. But
rather than trying to conceal the fact that many Club members disliked Mother of Pearl, producers of
The Oprah Winfrey Show opted instead to air readers’ frustrations in an audio montage on the
September program:


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