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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 17 Cane River “is” a novel, yet the videotaped author interview stressed again and again how the book blurred the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction (without using those exact words). Like the videotaped interview with Mary McGarry Morris, the Tademy interview included a part in which she toured locations that had inspired scenes in the book. “Cane River is a real place,” Tademy began. But in contrast to the funeral home, restaurant, and the old Victorian in Rutland, Vermont, very few of the “real” places Tademy described in the book still exist as such. “I began to go and visit Cane River, and I would just walk along unmarked sites just trying to get the feel of the place. [. . .] A lot of the areas that were plantations that I talk about in the book no longer exist. For one thing, so much of it was burned during the Civil War” (Oprah’s book club: Cane River, 2001, p. 3). Tademy’s videotaped tour of Cane River thus provided evidence of the absence of the places featured in Cane River. Near the end of the Cane River discussion, Winfrey also noted the photographs included in the book. “[T]hat’s one of the fascinating things, didn’t you all think, about the book?” she asked the studio audience. “When you turn the page, there are the pictures of the people you’ve been reading about” (Oprah’s book club: Cane River, 2001, p. 15). What Winfrey drew attention to specifically was the indexicality of these photographs, i.e., that they could not have been produced without the women and places of Cane River actually having been present. Together, the videotaped author tour and the photographs may have invited participants in the Book Club to think about the characters and setting of Cane River as actual, despite their novelization. The thoroughgoing insistence producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show placed on the actuality of the people, settings, and events featured in the selections for Oprah’s Book Club raises an important question: how is genre negotiated with respect to the Club and to what ends? The Oprah’s Book Club “catalog” consists almost entirely of novels, save for two works of nonfiction and three short children’s books. Bracketing the children’s books, 10 what begins to emerge from the foregoing discussion is the sense in which the reified classificatory scheme – “fiction” versus “nonfiction” – does not adequately account for the logic that underlay the selections for Oprah’s Book Club; it relies on a predetermined literary distinction that may not have been altogether appropriate

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
17
Cane River “is” a novel, yet the videotaped author interview stressed again and again how the book
blurred the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction (without using those exact words).
Like the videotaped interview with Mary McGarry Morris, the Tademy interview included a
part in which she toured locations that had inspired scenes in the book. “Cane River is a real place,”
Tademy began. But in contrast to the funeral home, restaurant, and the old Victorian in Rutland,
Vermont, very few of the “real” places Tademy described in the book still exist as such. “I began to
go and visit Cane River, and I would just walk along unmarked sites just trying to get the feel of the
place. [. . .] A lot of the areas that were plantations that I talk about in the book no longer exist. For
one thing, so much of it was burned during the Civil War” (Oprah’s book club: Cane River, 2001, p.
3). Tademy’s videotaped tour of Cane River thus provided evidence of the absence of the places
featured in Cane River. Near the end of the Cane River discussion, Winfrey also noted the
photographs included in the book. “[T]hat’s one of the fascinating things, didn’t you all think, about
the book?” she asked the studio audience. “When you turn the page, there are the pictures of the
people you’ve been reading about” (Oprah’s book club: Cane River, 2001, p. 15). What Winfrey
drew attention to specifically was the indexicality of these photographs, i.e., that they could not have
been produced without the women and places of Cane River actually having been present. Together,
the videotaped author tour and the photographs may have invited participants in the Book Club to
think about the characters and setting of Cane River as actual, despite their novelization.
The thoroughgoing insistence producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show placed on the actuality
of the people, settings, and events featured in the selections for Oprah’s Book Club raises an
important question: how is genre negotiated with respect to the Club and to what ends?
The Oprah’s Book Club “catalog” consists almost entirely of novels, save for two works of
nonfiction and three short children’s books. Bracketing the children’s books,
10
what begins to emerge
from the foregoing discussion is the sense in which the reified classificatory scheme – “fiction” versus
“nonfiction” – does not adequately account for the logic that underlay the selections for Oprah’s Book
Club; it relies on a predetermined literary distinction that may not have been altogether appropriate


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