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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 14 All that is to say there was no single “level” at which members of Oprah’s Book Club read, and indeed their range of reading interests and abilities was reflected, albeit indirectly, in the seemingly “inconsistent” profile of titles chosen for the Club. More strongly, Winfrey and producers of the Book Club were intent on making and timing selections strategically, i.e., to appeal to a very broad range of women readers and to welcome newcomers, some of whom may have felt intimidated by books and book reading, to the Club. Reading the Oprah Some women, as I mentioned earlier, used Oprah’s Book Club selections to create spatio- temporal “barriers” for themselves to better regulate the incursions of children and to a lesser extent heterosexual partners. This discussion, more specifically, explored how the very fact of the books themselves occasioned the construction of these “barriers.” Now I want to ask: how did Oprah’s Book Club articulate the content of specific Book Club selections to the lives of women readers? How did women engage with the content of these books? And what, if anything, did the content of these books help women to do? The opening of the March 2001 Book Club Discussion included an intriguing message from Winfrey directed to those who had and had not read that month’s selection, Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys. “Don’t worry if you haven’t read . . . We Were the Mulvaneys,” she stated, “because as with all our Book Club shows, it’s more about life than about a novel” (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 1). What this statement suggests, and what emerged time and again on episodes of Oprah’s Book Club, is that specific books and the discussions about them were perceived to be valuable by Winfrey and viewer/readers to the extent that they shared a clear connection with “life,” or that they resonated with their own feelings, personal experiences, and everyday concerns. One way in which the Book Club both established and maintained this connection to “life” was through its constant emphasis on the actuality – not merely the realism – of the settings, and in

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
14
All that is to say there was no single “level” at which members of Oprah’s Book Club read,
and indeed their range of reading interests and abilities was reflected, albeit indirectly, in the
seemingly “inconsistent” profile of titles chosen for the Club. More strongly, Winfrey and producers
of the Book Club were intent on making and timing selections strategically, i.e., to appeal to a very
broad range of women readers and to welcome newcomers, some of whom may have felt intimidated
by books and book reading, to the Club.
Reading the Oprah
Some women, as I mentioned earlier, used Oprah’s Book Club selections to create spatio-
temporal “barriers” for themselves to better regulate the incursions of children and to a lesser extent
heterosexual partners. This discussion, more specifically, explored how the very fact of the books
themselves occasioned the construction of these “barriers.” Now I want to ask: how did Oprah’s Book
Club articulate the content of specific Book Club selections to the lives of women readers? How did
women engage with the content of these books? And what, if anything, did the content of these books
help women to do?
The opening of the March 2001 Book Club Discussion included an intriguing message from
Winfrey directed to those who had and had not read that month’s selection, Joyce Carol Oates’ We
Were the Mulvaneys. “Don’t worry if you haven’t read . . . We Were the Mulvaneys,” she stated,
“because as with all our Book Club shows, it’s more about life than about a novel” (Oprah’s book
club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 1). What this statement suggests, and what emerged time and
again on episodes of Oprah’s Book Club, is that specific books and the discussions about them were
perceived to be valuable by Winfrey and viewer/readers to the extent that they shared a clear
connection with “life,” or that they resonated with their own feelings, personal experiences, and
everyday concerns.
One way in which the Book Club both established and maintained this connection to “life”
was through its constant emphasis on the actuality – not merely the realism – of the settings, and in


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