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Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America

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Adored by its fans, deplored by its critics, the Oprah Book Club has been at the center of arguments about cultural authority and literary taste since its inception in 1996. Virtually everyone seems to have an opinion about this monumental institution with its revolutionary and controversial fusion of the literary, the televisual, and the commercial. Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney is the first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is the OBC. Rooney combines extensive research with a lively personal voice ...
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Overview


Adored by its fans, deplored by its critics, the Oprah Book Club has been at the center of arguments about cultural authority and literary taste since its inception in 1996. Virtually everyone seems to have an opinion about this monumental institution with its revolutionary and controversial fusion of the literary, the televisual, and the commercial. Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney is the first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is the OBC. Rooney combines extensive research with a lively personal voice and engaging narrative style to untangle the myths and presuppositions surrounding the club, to reveal its complex and far-reaching cultural influence, confronting head-on how the club became a crucible for the heated clash between “high” and “low” literary taste. Comprehensive and up-to-date, the book features a wide survey of recent commentary, and describes why the club closed in 2002, as well as why it resumed almost a year later in 2003, with a new focus on “great books.” Rooney also provides the most extensive analysis yet of the Oprah Winfrey–Jonathan Franzen contretemps. Through her close examination of each of the club’s selected novels, as well as personal interviews and correspondence with OBC authors, Rooney demonstrates that in its tumultuous eight-year history the OBC has occupied a place of prominence unique in the culture that neither its supporters nor detractors have previously given it credit for.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Rooney takes a steady, smart look at a situation that is both fascinating in its own right and deeply revealing about ‘how it is’ in our cultural life these days.” —Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age “In her lively, information-filled account of the club’s history, Rooney . . . defends Oprah as a genuine ‘intellectual force.’ . . . Accurately captures the cultural unrest surrounding the Oprah Book Club and raises numerous thoughtful points about its significance.” —Publishers Weekly “Rooney’s analysis of the Oprah Book Club is both incisive and sympathetic, both scholarly in its methodology and accessible in its presentation. Anyone interested in the multiple diversities which characterize twenty-first century American culture will find Reading with Oprah provocative and entertaining.” —Tara Ghoshal Wallace, author of Jane Austen and Narrative Authority
Choice Magazine
Highly recommended.
Publishers Weekly
The impact of Oprah Winfrey's television book club is well known to everyone in the book business. Yet many among the literati assumed Oprah's picks were mediocre and resented the star's posturing as a tastemaker. In her lively, information-filled account of the club's history, Rooney, an award-winning poet and a writing instructor at Emerson College, defends Oprah as a genuine "intellectual force" who "promoted the bridging of the high-low chasm" in American literary life. Although Rooney confesses she found many picks unreadable for reasons she eloquently explains she points out the literary worth of selected novels by Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Rohinton Mistry and others. Rooney relates theoretical ideas on taste, literary value and cultural hierarchy to the social phenomenon of Oprah's club and focuses on every up and down in the face-off between Oprah and Franzen, saying each was disingenuous at times, and both missed an opportunity to look at larger questions of our literary culture. On the negative side, Rooney finds Oprah manipulative and inclined to interpret literary fiction in the reductive terms of autobiography and self-help. Ultimately, Rooney sees Oprah's Book Club (including its latest incarnation) as a positive effort. Although Rooney's sometimes awkward prose can get bogged down in anecdotal evidence and personal asides, she accurately captures the cultural unrest surrounding the Oprah Book Club and raises numerous thoughtful points about its significance. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557287823
  • Publisher: University of Arkansas Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Pages: 234
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author


Kathleen Rooney photo by Jeff Wood Kathleen Rooney is a writing instructor at Emerson College. Winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize in 2004 and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, she is editor of Redivider and has published a number of poems, articles, and reviews in the Nation, the Harvard Review, the Boston Review, Puerto Del Sol, and Cimarron Review. This book grew out of an article she wrote for the Nation about her visit to the show where Winfrey announced the end of the book club.
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Table of Contents

Preface : end of story?
1 The stories of Oprah : Oprah's Book Club and American literary culture 1
2 Jonathan Franzen versus Oprah Winfrey : disses, disinvitations, and disingenuousness 33
3 Raise your hand if you haven't done all the reading : the novels of OBC 67
4 Formatted to fit your screen : the flattening effects of television on the books of OBC 109
5 Is this it? : the end of Oprah's Book Club as we know it 163
6 Everything old is new again : Oprah's Book Club returns with the classics 185
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