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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 19 via the characters and events in the books, helping them to reflect upon their personal histories and present situations. Put another way, the very fact of the books themselves provided at least some women with the time and space away from their daily obligations as partners, mothers, and professionals. The content of the books, meanwhile, tended to address issues and themes arising directly from women’s roles as partners, mothers, professionals, and more generally as women living in a patriarchal society. Herein lies the key productive tension at the heart of Oprah’s Book Club: the books themselves helped numerous women readers to find temporary relief from their everyday lives, yet the on air discussions typically reinforced how the books’ narratives provided opportunities for them to revisit the rigors, demands, anxieties, dangers, and challenges they faced on a daily basis. Oprah’s Book Club, in other words, aided these women in establishing and maintaining a highly sophisticated, dialectical relationship with everyday life, which helped them to balance their need to disconnect from these routines and feelings with their desires to cultivate a more intensive engagement with them. The way in which the December 1999 selection, A. Manette Ansay’s Vinegar Hill, was discussed and framed on The Oprah Winfrey Show is particularly illustrative of this dialectic with the everyday. The novel turns on the tensions between a married couple and their in-laws, and more specifically on the main character Ellen Grier’s struggle to assert herself and her needs after she, her husband James, and their two young children are forced to move in with James’ overbearing parents. Like virtually all episodes of Oprah’s Book Club, the discussion included a segment in which the author explained how Vinegar Hill was born of actual events; Ansay and her parents moved in with her paternal grandparents briefly when she was five, and she drew some of the scenes in the book, we are told, directly from that experience (Oprah’s book club, 1999, December 3, pp. 15, 17). And although Ansay claimed that Ellen was not her mother per se, she did reveal that “[m]y mother’s own story inspired Ellen’s transformation because my mother is someone who does not give up” (Oprah’s book club, 1999, December 3, pp. 16, 15). The program thus stressed how Vinegar Hill was grounded

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
19
via the characters and events in the books, helping them to reflect upon their personal histories and
present situations. Put another way, the very fact of the books themselves provided at least some
women with the time and space away from their daily obligations as partners, mothers, and
professionals. The content of the books, meanwhile, tended to address issues and themes arising
directly from women’s roles as partners, mothers, professionals, and more generally as women living
in a patriarchal society. Herein lies the key productive tension at the heart of Oprah’s Book Club: the
books themselves helped numerous women readers to find temporary relief from their everyday lives,
yet the on air discussions typically reinforced how the books’ narratives provided opportunities for
them to revisit the rigors, demands, anxieties, dangers, and challenges they faced on a daily basis.
Oprah’s Book Club, in other words, aided these women in establishing and maintaining a highly
sophisticated, dialectical relationship with everyday life, which helped them to balance their need to
disconnect from these routines and feelings with their desires to cultivate a more intensive engagement
with them.
The way in which the December 1999 selection, A. Manette Ansay’s Vinegar Hill, was
discussed and framed on The Oprah Winfrey Show is particularly illustrative of this dialectic with the
everyday. The novel turns on the tensions between a married couple and their in-laws, and more
specifically on the main character Ellen Grier’s struggle to assert herself and her needs after she, her
husband James, and their two young children are forced to move in with James’ overbearing parents.
Like virtually all episodes of Oprah’s Book Club, the discussion included a segment in which the
author explained how Vinegar Hill was born of actual events; Ansay and her parents moved in with
her paternal grandparents briefly when she was five, and she drew some of the scenes in the book, we
are told, directly from that experience (Oprah’s book club, 1999, December 3, pp. 15, 17). And
although Ansay claimed that Ellen was not her mother per se, she did reveal that “[m]y mother’s own
story inspired Ellen’s transformation because my mother is someone who does not give up” (Oprah’s
book club, 1999, December 3, pp. 16, 15). The program thus stressed how Vinegar Hill was grounded


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