Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

By Kathryn Lofton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Reading Religiously
The Reformations of Oprah’s Book Club

The book club was back, and Oprah was happy. She hummed gospel tunes, she distributed carefully packaged print material, and she redressed her audience to clothe them for receipt of this, her old mission made new:

Winfrey: [Singing] “Oh, happy day.” Hey, everybody. It’s a happy day for
me. Because in case you haven’t heard, the book club is back, and I am
on a mission. My mission is to make this the biggest book club in the
world and get people reading again—not just reading, but reading great
books.

On June 18, 2003, Oprah Winfrey announced the return of Oprah’s Book Club, which had run originally from September 1996 until April 2002. “Oprah did the literary equivalent of inventing penicillin,” the vice president of Scribner remarked. “Honestly, how many people would have read so many of these wonderful books without her?”1 The end of her first club devastated viewers and the American book industry; since its conclusion, several factions of her audience lobbied for its revival, and bookstores claimed a downturn in sales.2 Such market demand made it perhaps inevitable that the club would rise again. The hotly anticipated episode that resuscitated her reading reign (titled appropriately, “The Return”) opened with the familiar ritual cadence of surprise plots, as Oprah “hit the highways of Chicago in search of new book club members” in the “Book Club mobile.” She stunned

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