Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Oprah's Book Club

So, I was blog-hopping a bit this morning, and I didn't hop far before I came upon litchick's post about how we choose what to read. She mentioned Oprah's book club and it made me think again about what role Oprah and her book club played in shaping the reader I am today.

When I first found out about Oprah's book club (it could have been started at this time, too, I don't recall), I was in high school. I've always been a reader, and I'd welcomed the chance to make the jump from kids books to "adult" books. I've since made the jump back to young adult books, but that's a story for another day. As an "adult" reader, I was...a uh...popular fiction hound. I liked what everybody liked. Put me in a room with Stephen King's or John Grisham's latest, and I was a happy camper. To some extent, I still can be. Sometimes it's refreshing to read a book that you can quickly and mindlessly finish in a day.

The thing is, now that I'm older, I wonder if I wouldn't still be reading only those same things if it weren't for Oprah and subsequently my mother's phase of passionately loving all things Oprah. Of course, I couldn't be left out of this bookish trend in my own house, so I cast aside the latest Stephen King/Dean Koontz/John Grisham/Danielle Steel, and I started picking up some of these depressing contemporary fiction pretty trade paperback books and trying them on for size. To this day, I'm a shameless lover of contemporary fiction/literature. At this point in my life, I can safely say that not one of my Oprah reads ranks among my favorites, though I haven't read all that many of her picks. However, I did come to love the feel of a trade paperback in my hand, love the sensation of reading a book that I had to think about because the story had characters that were real multi-dimensional people and the plot had a few layers of meaning instead of just a slow build to a cheap thrill, and love to having my emotions tied up in the outcome of the book. So, at the end of the day, I have to give Oprah some credit. She had a hand in opening my eyes to a type of book that at that point, I had no idea existed. A type of book that I spend most of my time with today, and a type of book which many of my favorites are now. I still read some of that old stuff and I still find it satisfying to devour a horror novel or a thriller in a day (and I'll even go on the record to say that I think that Stephen King is a great writer - not just a great "genre" writer, but great writer in general - again this is a story for another day), but I have to say that Oprah helped at least a little bit in shaping my tastes and making me into the reader I am today.

How about you? Do you ever think about what has influenced your reading through the years? What makes you read what you read?


  1. Such an interesting question. I have certainly read along with Oprah (never would have gotten through 'Anna Karenina' without her) and I love reading off award winning lists (the Pulitzer is my favorite followed by the Booker prize).

  2. I have to give Oprah props for re-energizing the hobby of reading and discussing novels. She made book clubs cool again. I think she's picked some really good books over the years - and introduced me to one of my (now)favorite writers, Anna Quindlen.

    I am not sure of her recent selections - I think they seem like self-help stuff - but you can't deny the marketing power she adds to any book she selects.

    Great question!

    =) Jill

  3. In high school, I got really sick and had to drop out of regular school and have two tutors come to my house instead (the school district arranged/paid for everything). Since they were only there around 10 hours a week, this left a lot of room for self-improvement, so I started drawing up big lists of books I wanted to read. Then, once every six weeks, my mom would drive me to the big, six-story, downtown public library and I'd check out around 30 books. I read a lot of really great books, but when I try to remember how I drew up my lists, I honestly have no idea at all. I just know I researched on the internet, lol.

  4. I jumped in with Oprah's first choice, Deep End of the Ocean, and as a brand-new mom, it wasn't the best choice for me! I've read a few other books she's chosen, but, like you, I wouldn't count any of them as favorites. I do give props to her for making it "ok" for people to read again!

    I can't remember what suddenly thrust me headfirst back into reading again. Just all of a sudden, when my kids were 4 and 2 and suddenly able to entertain themselves briefly, and I was going through a pretty tough time emotionally, I decided to read again. And I haven't looked back since. I got suggestions from a parenting e-mail list again, plus started working on my Masters in Library Science, and suddenly had a wishlist a mile and a half long (and growing).

  5. Let's see...

    I was originally the opposite of you, Megan. I was a book snob and if Oprah recommended a book, I didn't want anything to do with it.

    Then came The Road.

    But, I still read for enjoyment and depressing, end-of-the-world novels don't fit. I pay attention to the reviews around the blogosphere and I read reviews in the paper. I also go with my instinct - I pick a book up, read the back, and then decide whether or not to make the leap of faith and go with it.


  6. Even though I'm in my mid-30's, I've found an appreciation for YA fiction recently and just can't seem to get enough. I sure wish they wrote books like that when I was in high school!

  7. I think the biggest influence in the broadening of what I read comes a greater exposure to books and authors that I might not have known about before. I give a lot of credit to my online reading groups and more recently, blogs like yours. I've always had eclectic reading taste thanks in large part to my parents who encouraged that in me, but I've definitely expanded over the years. My interests over the years have changed and with it what I want to get out of my reading. And that too has played a big part in the choices I've made.

  8. I take every reading suggestion I'm given seriously, whether it comes from my mom, my friends or Oprah. I don't take anyone's word that a book is good - I read it myself to see. I don't think Oprah has anymore authority on books than anyone else does. She's just another girl recommending books.

  9. I gotta give Oprah props, too. I was excited when she started her book club. Didn't think it would last as long as it has!

    In recent years, I've shifted slightly more to nonfiction. That started with loving biographies, then I just sort of branched out with other subjects I love like food and baseball, for example.

  10. That is a great set of questions. How did I come to read what I did? My mom and dad were big readers and, thus, big influences. And then I had reading lists for school. Now I read a lot of what I'm supposed to read because I'm an English professor - those classics are things I try to get through. I have read some of Oprah's stuff - The Book of Ruth was good - and I read for blog challenges sometimes. Plus, I'm in a book group so . . .
    But really sometimes I choose what I read just by what's the closest thing to me at a given moment.

  11. kookiejar, I love reading from the prize lists now, too. I'm nutty for the Orange Prize of late but most any respected prize will do.

    Jill, Anna Quindlen is one of those authors whose books I seem to accumulate with the best of intentions but not get around to reading, I'll definitely have to get to one of hers soon. I've never been into self-help stuff too much, so those kind of recommendations are usually lost on me - hope she gets back to fiction soon.

    Eva - Proves that making book lists is great fun at any age! Those library days must have been great fun - a big old 30 book high stack of awesomeness to choose from!

    Somer - that's great that Oprah helped you get back into the swing of reading again - guess that was pretty good timing, huh? I can't deny that it's always nice to have *somebody* recommend a book before diving into one, especially when you're pretty busy (which is part of the allure of book blogs, no?) - so Oprah definitely helped out there. My wish list is also crazy long - I like to joke that it adds to itself while I sleep, but I think it actually does...for real. ;-)

    CJ - I get a weird kind of enjoyment out of reading depressing books. One of my friends asked me once to recommend a fun, spirit-raising kind of book, and I totally drew a blank. I've since read a few that I could have recommended to her, but that was weird when I realized that I was reading mostly depressing books. =/

    Stephanie, isn't YA great? It's a "genre" that definitely seems to be coming into its own lately. I was in such a hurry to "grow up" my reading that I think I missed a bunch of great books. It's nice to go back and see what I was missing, as a matter of fact, both of my favorite reads from this year so far are YA!

    LF, my experience with book lovers of all kinds online has definitely broadened my reading preferences. Hearing other people rave about sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult books have encouraged me to make sure more of all those make it into my book collection where they definitely wouldn't have before. I'm always looking to try new things and have a better reading experience, and BookCrossing and the book blogosphere have definitely helped me in that respect.

    Susan - yup, that's true. Guess it was good timing that she was recommending books just when I was looking for some more "grown up" reads. ;-)

    Bybee - I've gotten more into non-fiction lately, too. I've become a real memoir junkie, and I like to read about history and travel and anything informative about the random things or places I often find myself curious about. It's nice to know that wherever my interests lie at any time, there's almost definitely a book about it out there somewhere!

    Andi, my mom and my aunt are both big readers, so I definitely got some of what I have from them. My aunt used to buy me the greatest books every year for Christmas. I like to read from lists, too, but it's definitely fun to throw in some totally random reads every now and again. When I don't have a plan or I'm feeling indecisive, I usually make whoever's around pick a number at random and I'll see where that gets me on my LibraryThing shelf and commit myself to reading the one they randomly chose. :)


    Hmmm...once upon a time, I was concise. Does anybody believe that? ;-)

  12. Your question at the end is an interesting one. I get my reading material, and ideas for what I want to read, from a variety of sources. I'm constantly in bookstores, libraries,, etc., looking for new stuff. I also belong to a review servce through that has introduced me to some new books, fiction and non-, which I wouldn't have read otherwise.

  13. I started following the Oprah Bookclub when she started choosing the classics. I too would never have got through Anna Karenina with the people in the group I was in on the site, and the same for One Hundred Years of Solitude. I am still book friends with several of those people, so for me, it was a pretty positive experience.

    Nowadays, I see what she chooses, and I am in interested in what those choices maybe, but it's no guarantee that I will read it!

  14. I was excited to read along with Oprah when she first started her book club. I loved The Deep End of the Ocean, Stones from the River, The Book of Ruth, The Reader, and others. But then my life got crazy and I could no longer keep up, plus it seemed like every Oprah book was a "weird woman" book that was thoroughly depressing. So after awhile I "quit" the club, but I do give her credit for getting me back into reading after a long slump.