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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 31 that Hanna, a woman with whom he had had a love affair and to whom he used to read as a fifteen year old boy, is illiterate. Winfrey framed Sandra Harrison’s story as in some respects mirroring Hanna’s (Oprah’s book club, 1999, March 31, p. 20). 9 Interestingly, the timing of Morrison’s Paradise coincided with the infamous lawsuit brought against Winfrey by a group of Texas cattle producers, in response to an April 1996 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show about beef and the dangers of mad cow disease. For weeks Winfrey was away in Amarillo, Texas observing and participating in the trial, and The Oprah Winfrey Show even was moved there temporarily. One has to wonder to what extent, if any, these events influenced the selection of a challenging book like Morrison’s Paradise and the conferral of extra time for readers to grapple with it. I wonder, moreover, what members of the Texas beef industry would think if they realized they not only lost their suit against Winfrey but also indirectly may have encouraged more women to read Toni Morrison! 10 I’m bracketing the three children’s books, all written by actor/comedian Bill Cosby, because I believe strongly that, unlike the “nonfiction” books included in Oprah’s Book Club, these are truly anomalous and their selection should be attributed largely to the Club’s still trying to define itself in relationship to the needs of its female audience, particularly those with children. 11 It is important to clarify that Cynthia’s identification with the character March Murray appears to have been a partial one, since she made no mention of her entering into a physically and psychologically abusive relationship with an old lover as did March. 12 In contrast to the character Marianne Mulvaney, the Hanson’s daughter Susan tragically committed suicide. 13 Interestingly, during the program in which Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was discussed, Winfrey and several women observed how they felt “transported” to Congo via Kingsolver’s prose. I would argue, however, that the book overall tended not to be considered an “escape” by the women featured on the show, since many observed how, upon reading the book, they became increasingly aware of and thankful for their domestic accoutrements, e.g., dishwashers, soap, etc. (Oprah’s book club, 2000, August 23, passim).

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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background image
Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
31
that Hanna, a woman with whom he had had a love affair and to whom he used to read as a fifteen year old
boy, is illiterate. Winfrey framed Sandra Harrison’s story as in some respects mirroring Hanna’s (Oprah’s
book club, 1999, March 31, p. 20).
9
Interestingly, the timing of Morrison’s Paradise coincided with the infamous lawsuit brought
against Winfrey by a group of Texas cattle producers, in response to an April 1996 episode of The Oprah
Winfrey Show about beef and the dangers of mad cow disease. For weeks Winfrey was away in Amarillo,
Texas observing and participating in the trial, and The Oprah Winfrey Show even was moved there
temporarily. One has to wonder to what extent, if any, these events influenced the selection of a challenging
book like Morrison’s Paradise and the conferral of extra time for readers to grapple with it. I wonder,
moreover, what members of the Texas beef industry would think if they realized they not only lost their suit
against Winfrey but also indirectly may have encouraged more women to read Toni Morrison!
10
I’m bracketing the three children’s books, all written by actor/comedian Bill Cosby, because I
believe strongly that, unlike the “nonfiction” books included in Oprah’s Book Club, these are truly
anomalous and their selection should be attributed largely to the Club’s still trying to define itself in
relationship to the needs of its female audience, particularly those with children.
11
It is important to clarify that Cynthia’s identification with the character March Murray appears to
have been a partial one, since she made no mention of her entering into a physically and psychologically
abusive relationship with an old lover as did March.
12
In contrast to the character Marianne Mulvaney, the Hanson’s daughter Susan tragically
committed suicide.
13
Interestingly, during the program in which Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was
discussed, Winfrey and several women observed how they felt “transported” to Congo via Kingsolver’s
prose. I would argue, however, that the book overall tended not to be considered an “escape” by the women
featured on the show, since many observed how, upon reading the book, they became increasingly aware of
and thankful for their domestic accoutrements, e.g., dishwashers, soap, etc. (Oprah’s book club, 2000,
August 23, passim).


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