With Oprah Winfrey's final show airing today, publishers are saying goodbye to Oprah's Book Club -- it had an extraordinary ability to transform modest best-sellers into mega-hits. Matthew Flamm of Crain's puts the Book Club in context:
Wait til you get a load of this!
Though her influence waned in the past few years, the host of Oprah’s Book Club chalked up a record for pushing titles into the sales stratosphere that no other media personality could match.... Still, some observers point out that Ms. Winfrey sometimes lavished her attentions on authors who were either dead, like John Steinbeck and William Faulkner, or already well-known, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And she was hardly the only book-loving host.
“She definitely leaves a hole in a cultural regard, but she might hold up a book on her show ever month or two or three,” said Michael Norris, senior analyst with Simba Information, which tracks the book industry. “Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart do that four times a week.”
The most interesting aspect of the Book Club, to my mind, was the way that it highlighted great books from the past -- Great Expectations, Light in August, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Anna Karenina -- and difficult books from the present, like The Road. It's a good thing she didn't propose a book four times a week -- it takes a while to read and digest three Faulkner novels! The complete list is here. And, if you missed it, here's one of the oddest literary moments of the past few years: Cormac McCarthy's first, and awesome, television appearance, on Oprah.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.