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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 18 from the standpoint of the Club, even if those closely associated with it occasionally employed that distinction themselves (see., e.g., Salute to mothers, 1997, p. 17). Put another way, the two “nonfiction” books selected for Oprah’s Book Club, Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman and Malika Oufkir’s Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, may seem anomalous alongside the forty-plus “novels” chosen for the Book Club. Yet, the repeated stress producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show placed on the actuality of the novels suggests a rupturing of commonsense distinction between “fiction” and “nonfiction” on Oprah’s Book Club. Heart of a Woman and Stolen Lives indeed made perfect sense alongside the forty-plus novels chosen for the Club. Virtually all of them were portrayed as stories that actually happened, even if book publishers, booksellers, and critics persisted in classifying, marketing, and talking about these selections simply as works of “fiction” or “nonfiction.” Oprah’s Book Club producers and participants thus were further able to connect books with “life” by troubling this most basic bibliographic distinction. Collectively, they articulated Book Club selections – novels especially – from the realm of the imagined to the actual, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say from the fantastic to the everyday. Indeed, the televised Oprah’s Book Club broadcasts regularly went beyond framing the selections as stories that actually happened, by highlighting how the characters, events, and themes corresponded directly with women’s personal experiences and daily lives. During the first anniversary episode of the Book Club Winfrey remarked: “I love books because you read about somebody else’s life but it makes you think about your own” (Oprah’s book club anniversary party, 1997, p. 2). She reaffirmed this point eighteen months later during the Book Club’s videotaped discussion of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. “We love books because they make you question yourself” (Oprah’s Book Club, 1999, March 31, p. 13). The value of reading Book Club selections, in other words, lay in their ability to provoke critical introspection. Thus, the selections for Oprah’s Book Club and the activity of reading were not valued only because they helped women to create distance from their everyday responsibilities and routines. On the contrary, they also enabled women to move closer to their everyday lives and personal experiences

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
18
from the standpoint of the Club, even if those closely associated with it occasionally employed that
distinction themselves (see., e.g., Salute to mothers, 1997, p. 17). Put another way, the two
“nonfiction” books selected for Oprah’s Book Club, Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman and
Malika Oufkir’s Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, may seem anomalous alongside the
forty-plus “novels” chosen for the Book Club. Yet, the repeated stress producers of The Oprah
Winfrey Show placed on the actuality of the novels suggests a rupturing of commonsense distinction
between “fiction” and “nonfiction” on Oprah’s Book Club. Heart of a Woman and Stolen Lives
indeed made perfect sense alongside the forty-plus novels chosen for the Club. Virtually all of them
were portrayed as stories that actually happened, even if book publishers, booksellers, and critics
persisted in classifying, marketing, and talking about these selections simply as works of “fiction” or
“nonfiction.”
Oprah’s Book Club producers and participants thus were further able to connect books with
“life” by troubling this most basic bibliographic distinction. Collectively, they articulated Book Club
selections – novels especially – from the realm of the imagined to the actual, or perhaps it would be
more accurate to say from the fantastic to the everyday. Indeed, the televised Oprah’s Book Club
broadcasts regularly went beyond framing the selections as stories that actually happened, by
highlighting how the characters, events, and themes corresponded directly with women’s personal
experiences and daily lives. During the first anniversary episode of the Book Club Winfrey remarked:
“I love books because you read about somebody else’s life but it makes you think about your own”
(Oprah’s book club anniversary party, 1997, p. 2). She reaffirmed this point eighteen months later
during the Book Club’s videotaped discussion of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. “We love books
because they make you question yourself” (Oprah’s Book Club, 1999, March 31, p. 13). The value of
reading Book Club selections, in other words, lay in their ability to provoke critical introspection.
Thus, the selections for Oprah’s Book Club and the activity of reading were not valued only
because they helped women to create distance from their everyday responsibilities and routines. On
the contrary, they also enabled women to move closer to their everyday lives and personal experiences


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