Ron Hogan’s thoughtful post about Oprah’s 2011 retirement announcement brought me back to a book I’ve mentioned a few times, Ted Striphas’ The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. His chapter on the Oprah book club was nothing short of revelatory. (I copied the pages for everyone in my office.)
He gets to the heart of why the Oprah Book Club worked: Oprah doesn’t review the books, connect them with their literary antecedents, or analyze them from a Freudian/Marxist/Feminist school of thought. She takes the fairly radical approach of looking for ways to connect literature with quotidian life, helping her audience find the time to read first, and then asking how the book relates to their life. By doing so Oprah is creating what a million book reviews could not: recreational reading time. This is her real contribution.
Striphas is much more articulate on the subject, so I defer to him. Essential reading for anyone in publishing.