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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 22 Book Club. Winfrey indicated that numerous readers had written in to the show explaining how they had seen themselves and their families in the book. “[W]hat’s so exciting about We Were the Mulvaneys,” Winfrey observed, was that “we’ve gotten so many letters from . . . people who were members of families who say, ‘We were the Grants,’ or ‘We were the Pullmans.’ ‘We were’ – a lot of people started their letters that way” (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 6). The broadcast also included a poignant videotaped interview with the Hanson family, who, like the Mulvaneys, were ostracized from their community after they filed suit against a young man who had raped their daughter, Susan (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, pp. 1-4). 12 As Jayne Hanson, Susan’s mother explained, “[I]t dawned on me reading this book, we have all been – we’ve all been raped” (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 7). Collectively, these comments suggest that a common set of purposes underpinned why these women read and identified with the selections for Oprah’s Book Club: in part, to gain perspective, emotional support, and the resources they needed to assess their lives, relationships, and physical/ psychological well-being. Once, a guest in the Oprah studio audience asked Winfrey why she chose books with so much “angst” in them (Anne Murray and her daughter’s battle with anorexia, 1999, p. 17). Winfrey responded by stating, “all the stories I …choose, in one way or another, are always ultimately about triumph” (Anne Murray and her daughter’s battle with anorexia, 1999, p. 18). By this I take Winfrey to mean that the main characters in the selections for Oprah’s Book Club, a vast majority of whom are women, eventually discover positive ways in which to overcome the challenges and fears they face in their daily lives. Interestingly, the one novel in which Winfrey promised “a total escape from your own life – escape, escape, escape” (Oprah’s book club, 2000, November 16, p. 21), Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog, met with significant resistance on the part of those viewers invited to participate in the videotaped discussion. 13 All but one of the guests was particularly disgusted by the character Kathy Nicolo, whose lying, promiscuity, theft, substance abuse, racism, and inattention to her daily responsibilities disturbed them deeply. And while the exact source of their distress remains unclear, I

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
22
Book Club. Winfrey indicated that numerous readers had written in to the show explaining how they
had seen themselves and their families in the book. “[W]hat’s so exciting about We Were the
Mulvaneys,” Winfrey observed, was that “we’ve gotten so many letters from . . . people who were
members of families who say, ‘We were the Grants,’ or ‘We were the Pullmans.’ ‘We were’ – a lot of
people started their letters that way” (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 6). The
broadcast also included a poignant videotaped interview with the Hanson family, who, like the
Mulvaneys, were ostracized from their community after they filed suit against a young man who had
raped their daughter, Susan (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, pp. 1-4).
12
As Jayne
Hanson, Susan’s mother explained, “[I]t dawned on me reading this book, we have all been – we’ve
all been raped” (Oprah’s book club: We Were the Mulvaneys, 2001, p. 7). Collectively, these
comments suggest that a common set of purposes underpinned why these women read and identified
with the selections for Oprah’s Book Club: in part, to gain perspective, emotional support, and the
resources they needed to assess their lives, relationships, and physical/ psychological well-being.
Once, a guest in the Oprah studio audience asked Winfrey why she chose books with so
much “angst” in them (Anne Murray and her daughter’s battle with anorexia, 1999, p. 17). Winfrey
responded by stating, “all the stories I …choose, in one way or another, are always ultimately about
triumph” (Anne Murray and her daughter’s battle with anorexia, 1999, p. 18). By this I take Winfrey
to mean that the main characters in the selections for Oprah’s Book Club, a vast majority of whom are
women, eventually discover positive ways in which to overcome the challenges and fears they face in
their daily lives.
Interestingly, the one novel in which Winfrey promised “a total escape from your own life –
escape, escape, escape” (Oprah’s book club, 2000, November 16, p. 21), Andre Dubus III’s House of
Sand and Fog, met with significant resistance on the part of those viewers invited to participate in the
videotaped discussion.
13
All but one of the guests was particularly disgusted by the character Kathy
Nicolo, whose lying, promiscuity, theft, substance abuse, racism, and inattention to her daily
responsibilities disturbed them deeply. And while the exact source of their distress remains unclear, I


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