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I Applaud Oprah for Pushing Great Literature Upon the Masses

Oprah Winfrey attends the premiere of the Weinstein Company's 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live in Los AngelesOprah launched her Book Club 2.0 in 2012. Since Oprah retired from her talk show, the new book club has become a cross-platform club for readers to tweet, blog, video chat, and listen in on Oprah’s Sirius XM radio channel for book discussions.

The first 2 selections for the club (Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis) became national best-sellers.

Who is the next lucky author?

The next Book Club read will be Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (pre-order available for its January 7th release date).

“The moment I finished The Invention of Wings, I knew this had to be the next Book Club selection,” said Oprah Winfrey. “These strong female characters represent the women that have shaped our history and, through Sue’s imaginative storytelling, give us a new perspective on slavery, injustice and the search for freedom.”

Jonathan Franzen’s much publicized ambivalence about his novel, The Corrections, being an Oprah pick in 2001 cast a shadow on Oprah’s 1.0 Book Club. His issue? He feared Oprah’s mass appeal would damage his high-brow literary street cred.

Oh brother. As a writer and reader of both high- and low-brow goods, I rejoice when someone with the reach of Oprah pushes great literature upon the masses. Oprah’s picks are varied in theme, but lately she has been drawn to novels with strong female characters searching for freedom. As a strong female figure herself, who better to promote these stories?

And if Oprah’s selections become bestsellers and turn talented authors into millionaires — so much the better. People in creative fields are always afraid of selling out because commercialism is often at odds with “true art.” For example, as a blogger (low brow?) I was reluctant to put ads on my site, and I feel conflicted about changing my carefully worded post titles to search engine optimized headlines. Artists need to toil and struggle and starve. It’s part of the gig, right?

Maybe not so much. You don’t need a patron, an agent, or a publisher anymore. Through social media outlets like Kickstarter and Twitter, artists and creative types can enter the conversation with a click. More people are getting recognition and credit for their talent. It’s a great time for the arts and literature, if not for publishing houses and newspapers. We’re going to need to pivot with the industry and embrace new ways of hocking our wares for a thriving literary tradition to continue.

Which is exactly what Oprah has done with her 2.0 book club. She’s using all the means available to her to talk about books. How cool.

She says, “Sue Monk Kidd has written a conversation changer. It is impossible to read this book and not come away thinking differently about our status as women and about all the unsung heroines who played a role in getting us where we are. . . . I came away from the book with so many layers of empathy, gratitude and understanding of the path that had been paved for me, as an African American woman, daughter of a maid, great-great-granddaughter of a slave, and as a woman in the culture of America” (from the January issue of O, The Oprah Magazine).

It sounds like an important read. If you’re not super into Oprah’s Book Club, read it for your own book club. My husband and I belong to a book club we love that has been going for a few years. Reading books together with your friends and family is a great way to stay in touch and have interesting discussions about topics that might not come up in everyday life. Literature enhances our lives in very real ways. I believe this. But sometimes you don’t notice the importance of what you’ve read until you talk it over with someone else.

(Here are my tips for How to Start a Book Club, and here’s what Oprah has to say about The Invention of Wings.)

Does The Invention of Wings sound like a book you’re interested in? Do you belong to a book club? What are you reading this year?

Photo Credit: Pacific Coast News

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