So Few Good Books?

Clint Eastwood is seen on stage after accepting the brass balls award at the Spike TV Guys Choice awards in Culver City, Calif., on Saturday May 30, 2009. AP

Oprah Winfrey, publishing's No. 1 hit maker, is cutting back on her book club recommendations.

The TV personality who helped make best sellers out of such little-known authors as Rohinton Mistry and Jacquelyn Mitchard said she has been struggling to find suitable works.

"It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share," Winfrey said in a statement Friday. "I will continue featuring books on the 'Oprah Winfrey Show' when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation."

Winfrey also broke the news Friday on her talk show, when she announced that her final pick for now would be Toni Morrison's "Sula," an acclaimed 1973 novel about the friendship of two women. Winfrey is close friends with the Nobel laureate and previously recommended such Morrison novels as "Song of Solomon" and "Paradise."

A spokeswoman for Winfrey would not specify when she would make next pick or how often books would be selected. Winfrey, 48, has talked of retiring, but she recently extended the contract for her TV show through the 2005-2006 season.

"I think it's a shame she's cutting back. She's such an American original and such a force for literacy," said Joyce Carol Oates, whose novel, "We Were the Mulvaneys," was a Winfrey pick in 2001.

Oates, a professor of humanities at Princeton University, said she empathized with Winfrey.

"When I met her, she was saying that she found it harder to find books," Oates said. "I know that I've been teaching for years and after a while you've taught all the books you want to teach."

Vowing "to get the whole country reading again," the talk-show host founded her book club in 1996 and her recommendations soon became publishing's version of winning the lottery. Thanks to Winfrey, novels such as Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean" and Tawni O'Dell's "Back Roads" reached hundreds of thousands of additional readers.

Publishers were understandably grateful, but some critics complained that Winfrey favored sentimental stories over quality literature. Winfrey herself seemed aware of these concerns and in recent months had picked such weighty books as Mistry's "A Fine Balance" and Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections."

Ironically, Franzen became her most notorious selection. The author made several disparaging remarks about Winfrey and her previous book club picks and Winfrey responded by canceling the dinner she traditionally throws for her chosen author.

Winfrey has made 46 picks since starting the club, although selections have been more sporadic over the past couple of years. "Sula" was her first title since January; only six books were cited in 2001.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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