Today In History: Oprah Debuts Book Club

Today In History |

September 17, 1996

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Today in 1996, Oprah Winfrey launched her TV-based book club. Her first selection was The Deep End of the Ocean, a novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Since the debut, Oprah's Book Club has become one of the driving forces in the fiction publishing world, probably the most powerful endorsement a book can get, in terms of increased sales, after the Pulitzer.

Although it's an institution now, Oprah's Book Club was assumed to be dead on arrival by many critics, who thought that her viewers couldn't be adequately motivated to read fiction. They were certainly proven wrong. It was a hit.

Some of Oprah's picks have gone on to sell over a million copies - an explosive number in publishing. Oprah appeared to have the golden finger. The power of her endorsements was so significant that the phenomenon was dubbed "The Oprah Effect."

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For the initial years of the program, the Book Club recommended contemporary fiction. Then, in 2003, Oprah started exclusively selecting classics like East of Eden and Anna Karenina. Two years later, she opened the club back up to contemporary works. That way, she could once again have the authors on her show for interviews.

The Book Club made its biggest ever headlines when Oprah nominated A Million Little Pieces by James Frey in 2005. Frey came on the show to promote the book, and then was cornered the next year for fabricating parts of the memoir. He was again brought on the show, to be confronted by a much chagrined Winfrey.

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Matt

Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.