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On its 25th anniversary, here’s a look at Oprah’s Book Club—by the numbers.

Dan Sheehan

September 17, 2021, 1:46pm

25 years ago today Oprah Winfrey launched what would soon become the most powerful and influential force in American publishing: Oprah’s Book Club.

Each month for over fourteen years, the beloved talk show host, cultural tastemaker, and undisputed “Queen of All Media” would recommend a new book (usually a work of literary fiction) for her legion of viewers to read and discuss.

OBC quickly became a phenomenon, catapulting dozens of authors (some established, some new, some famous, some languishing in near-obscurity) to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Nigerian debut author Uwem Akpan’s 2008 short story collection Say You’re One of Them sold nearly 800,000 copies after receiving the Oprah endorsement. The sales bump for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was somewhere in the region of 1 million copies. And, of course, Oprah’s championing of the novels of Toni Morrison (four of which were selected as OBC picks between 1996 and 2002) brought the 1993 Nobel laureate’s work into the homes, minds, and hearts of millions.

Now nine years into its digital media-focused second incarnation, Oprah’s Book Club (2.0) may not be quite juggernaut it was back in it’s early-2000s heyday, but as authors like Cheryl Strayed, Colson Whitehead, and Isabel Wilkerson can surely attest, the “Oprah Effect” is still very much alive and well.

Here’s a look back at some of the major stats and stories from a quarter century of Oprah’s Book Club.

Number of Oprah’s Book Club Selections (1996 – 2010): 70

September 1996: The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard
October 1996: Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
November 1996: The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton
December 1996: She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb
February 1997: Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
April 1997: The Rapture of Canaan, Sheri Reynolds
May 1997: The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou
June 1997: Songs In Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris
September 1997: The Meanest Thing To Say, Bill Cosby
September 1997: A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
October 1997: A Virtuous Woman, Kaye Gibbons
October 1997: Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons
December 1997: The Treasure Hunt, Bill Cosby
December 1997: The Best Way to Play, Bill Cosby
January 1998: Paradise, Toni Morrison
March 1998: Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman
April 1998: Black and Blue, Anna Quindlen
May 1998: Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
June 1998: I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb
September 1998: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, Pearl Cleage
October 1998: Midwives, Chris Bohjalian
December 1998: Where the Heart Is, Billie Letts
January 1999: Jewel, Bret Lott
February 1999: The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
March 1999: The Pilot’s Wife, Anita Shreve
May 1999: White Oleander, Janet Fitch
June 1999: Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes
September 1999: Tara Road, Maeve Binchy
October 1999: River, Cross My Heart, Breena Clarke
November 1999: Vinegar Hill, A. Manette Ansay
December 1999: A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
January 2000: Gap Creek, Robert Morgan
February 2000: Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende
March 2000: Back Roads, Tawni O’Dell
April 2000: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
May 2000: While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
June 2000: The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
August 2000: Open House, Elizabeth Berg
September 2000: Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
November 2000: House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III
January 2001: We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates
March 2001: Icy Sparks, Gwyn Hyman Rubio
May 2001: Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, Malika Oufkir
June 2001: Cane River, Lalita Tademy
September 2001: The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
November 2001: A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
January 2002: Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
April 2002: Sula, Toni Morrison
June 2003: East of Eden, John Steinbeck
September 2003: Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
January 2004: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
April 2004: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
May 2004: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
September 2004: The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
June 2005: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, William Faulkner
September 2005: A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
January 2006: Night, Elie Wiesel
January 2007: The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, Sir Sidney Poitier
March 2007: The Road, Cormac McCarthy
June 2007: Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
October 2007: Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
November 2007: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
January 2008: A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
September 2008: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
September 2009: Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan
September 2010: Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
December 2010: Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Number of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 Selections (2012 – present): 21

June 2012: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
December 2012: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis
January 2014: The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
February 2015: Ruby, Cynthia Bond
August 2016: The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
September 2016: Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle
June 2017: Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
February 2018: An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
June 2018: The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton
November 2018: Becoming, Michelle Obama
September 2019: The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
November 2019: Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
April 2020: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, Robert Kolker
June 2020: Deacon King Kong, James McBride
November 2020: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson
March 2021: Gilead , Home , Lila , Jack, Marilynne Robinson
June 2021: The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris
August 2021: The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Most appearances by a single author: 4

Toni Morrison: 4
Bill Cosby: 3
Jonathan Franzen: 2
Kaye Gibbons: 2
Wally Lamb: 2

Estimated number of members in Oprah’s original club: 2 million

Estimated extra copies a title was expected to sell after Oprah’s endorsement at the peak of her club’s popularity: 500,000

Total number of Oprah’s branded book-club picks sold during original book club run: 22 million

Major Controversies: 4

Franzengate

Franzen’s midwestern family saga The Corrections is chosen as the September 2001 pick. After the announcement is made, Franzen expresses displeasure at being in the company of other Oprah’s Book Club authors, saying in an interview that Winfrey has “picked some good books, but she’s picked enough schmaltzy, one-dimensional ones that I cringe, myself…” Soon after, despite Franzen’s apologies, his invitation to appear on Oprah’s show is rescinded. Nine years later Oprah selects Franzen’s next novel, Freedom, as the September 2010 OBC pick.

James Freygate

Oprah selects James Frey’s A Million Little Piecesa supposedly true account of Frey’s life as an alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal—as the September 2005 title. It becomes the Book Club’s biggest selling title up to that point. When allegations surface that Frey has filled the memoir with embellishments and outright lies, Oprah invites both Frey and his publisher Nan Talese on to her show, and proceeds to eviscerate them both for deceiving her and the reading public.

American Dirtgate

In January 2021, Oprah selects Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt—a novel about a Mexican woman fleeing to America with her child after being targeted by a vicious drug cartel—as her next OBC 2.0 pick. Critics accuse Cummins of relying on stereotypes to paint an inauthentic picture of Mexican migrants, exploiting their trauma and pain for profit. 142 writers sign an open letter to Oprah, asking that she reconsider her endorsement of the book. Oprah and Cummins, alongside a panel of Latina writers, then attempted to grapple with the American Dirt fallout in a two-part Apple TV+ episode.

My Dark Vanessagate

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel My Dark Vanessa—about a young woman confronting the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past—is selected for the March 2020 pick. In the wake of the American Dirt controversy, and without having read the novel, Wendy C. Ortiz accuses Russell of plagiarizing her 2014 memoir, Excavation. Russell is forced to release a statement explaining to readers that her book is based on her own personal experiences of sexual trauma. Despite critics finding no evidence of plagiarism, My Dark Vanessa, which Russell had worked on for nearly 20 years, is dropped by Oprah’s Book Club.

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