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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


    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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