Oprah's Book Club - 9/17/1996

US History |

On September 17th of 1996, TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey launched her now famous segment called Oprah's Book Club. Each month, Oprah selected a new book, which would be discussed with its author on her daytime talk show. 

The first book Oprah recommended was The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard, who was a first time novelist. The book sold millions of copies, due to what is known as the “Oprah effect.” The Oprah effect is the phenomenon where any product, person or place Oprah endorses (or even mentions) immediately sells a million or more copies. Many of Oprah's book recommendations went from being virtually unknown writings to top placement the New York Times Best Seller list. Other first time novelists to hit the big time with Oprah include Wally Lamb for She's Come Undone, and David Wroblewski for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Oprah also endorsed many established writers. Toni Morrison had four of her works selected for Oprah's book club – The Bluest Eye, Paradise, The Song of Solomon, and Sula.

Producers were skeptical, at first, about Oprah's book club idea, as they tended to categorize daytime talk shows in the same low-brow league with soap operas and game shows. However, producers were proven wrong when Oprah's book club became a huge success.

Oprah was no stranger to the importance of education and literacy. She had grown up in poverty, but her grandmother was very interested in her education as a child. When Oprah was in high school, she won an oratory contest. The prize was a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee, where Oprah studied communications. Through education, she eventually became the Oprah we know today.

In 2003, Oprah switched her selections from contemporary books to classic titles. This may have been based, in part, on an author who offended her when she selected his book. He seemed to fear that his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show might be damaging to his male readership. Oprah's offer to have him on the show was soon revoked. 

In 2004, when Oprah chose Ana Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, the publisher printed 800,000 extra copies. In 2005, Oprah switched back to contemporary titles, so she could have the authors on her show to talk about their books. Her first recommendation was A Million Little Pieces, a supposed autobiography by James Frey. After appearing on her show, Frey was forced to admit that much of the story was pure fiction. He appeared on the show again in 2006, to face a number of tough questions from Oprah.

By the time the final season of the Oprah Winfrey Show aired in 2011, Oprah had recommended at least 60 books to her viewers over a span of 15 years. In 2012, Oprah started another book club, called Oprah's Book Club 2.0. This book club was in more of a digital format, reviewing e-books available online. Sure enough, the Oprah effect still worked, with many titles attaining best seller status. 

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Amanda Miller

Contributor & Chief Coffee Maker

Being from San Diego I have always gone to the Ocean and wrote my thoughts onto paper. Since a young girl writing has been my passion and now I love being creative with what I love. In school I started early writing for my middle school paper and have learned so much since then. I now have an opportunity to do what I love and work from home every day you can't beat it. I look forward to writing some great content for you all and to see the feedback I get in the process. My favorite topic is positive stories showing people helping others.