Suspend Your Disbelief

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The End of Oprah

Oprah gave book publicists a collective fit of the vapors when she announced her show—and its high-profile book club—would be ending in 2011. Many fretted over the effects on publishing, calling it “a blow”:

“Other than a book being turned into a popular movie nothing brings readers to a book like Oprah,” said Dawn Davis, editorial director of the Amistad imprint of News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers. […] “She brings a variety of readers to a variety of books. Her impact is immeasurable.”

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Another publicist mourned, “If it is the end of her daily talk show,we probably won’t see something else to match its overall potential impact on book sales in the broadcast arena any time soon.” Meanwhile, others placed bets on who the “next Oprah” would be, with suggestions including (shudder) Glenn Beck.

Deep breath, everyone.

Personally, I have some hesitations about Oprah’s book club, especially when it steps beyond promoting literature and starts promoting lifestyle; this gets at some of the reasons why. But let’s give credit where credit is due: the fact that Oprah devotes time and energy to promote reading and literature is nothing short of amazing. Edwidge Danticat, MacArthur fellow and Oprah book club author, offered these insights into Oprah’s success:

When she calls to tell you that your book has been selected for the book club, she sounds so excited that you feel as though she’s both your ideal reader and your biggest cheerleader. The kind of excitement she showed for these books was contagious. I think that’s why so many people took a chance on books that otherwise they might have never picked up. […] [She] has had such a powerful impact on publishing not only because she helps sell books, but because she makes reading seem democratic, within everyone’s reach, and also a lot of fun.

Even so, repeat after me: the end of Oprah’s Book Club is not the death knell of publishing. Galleycat offers an argument for publicists to get a grip.

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