An analysis of how Oprah's Book Club has changed America's reading habits.
Oprah's Book Club sparked a revolution among readers by bringing serious contemporary novels to the attention of a wider audience. The Oprah's Book Club seal on a book led to instant fame and bestseller status for authorsbut, how did Oprah change the way America reads and values books? Reading Oprah suggests that Oprah initiated an all-important mantratrust readers. Not only did the public start reading accessible novels, but they also would snatch up formidable titles and read them with a growing confidence and skill. Then, they would talk about them, giving them a life beyond the reader and text.
“Cecilia Konchar Farr offers the first serious, scholarly examination of the phenomenon of Oprah’s Book Club, which―like it or not―has had a profound influence on the reading habits of American women. Her book is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read … Clearly feminist in her approach, Farr is also widely read, and she scrupulously documents the many sources she draws on in her ultimately persuasive argument that―as the book’s subtitle indicates―Oprah and her Book Club have changed the way America reads.” — Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association
“Farr’s study is … personal, … she offers a[n] … effective demonstration of the huge role that the club has played in breaking down readers’ reliance on cultural authorities to tell them what is good.” — CHOICE
"…excellent study of an exceptional media phenomenon … In an engaging personal voice that draws on the theories of a range of cultural critics, Farr considers the meaning of middlebrow literature, the history of the novel, immigration and literacy, class, self-improvement and democracy in America and how Oprah mapped a new public space in which a 'conversation with books' became possible for millions of viewers normally excluded from the rarified world of scholarship." Publishers Weekly
“…Farr doesn’t just present an airtight defense of Oprah’s Book Club as a positive cultural force; she also takes on the Western canon and the critics who create and sustain it … As … Farr sees it, Oprah’s greatest sin, in the eyes of these critics, is her commitment to getting books into the hands of the masses … and encouraging them not only to talk about books as if they matter, but as if their own lives matter, too … [The author] … presents her views in an eminently rational, plainspoken, and impeccably informed voice. If this is how a reading-group alumna … expresses herself, it’s impossible not to regard such groups … as a positive development in America’s intellectual life, and especially in the lives of women. And it’s difficult not to give Oprah some long-overdue props for her impressive achievement.” Bitch
"This is the first account of Oprah's Book Club I have read to take seriously Oprah's role as a teacher. Farr shows, through detailed comparisons with her own work as a college teacher, that Oprah was teaching the skills, craft, and pleasures of reading." from the Foreword by Elizabeth Long, author of Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life
"Farr demonstrates compellingly that Oprah's Book Club is the 'reading revolution' Toni Morrison claimed it was. In her very engaging account of the Club, Farr enacts what she calls the 'joys of the talking life of books.' Reading Oprah promises to change the way literature is taught in the academy." Elizabeth A. Flynn, author of Feminism Beyond Modernism
"By insisting that we take Oprah and her audience of women readers seriously, Farr challenges our resistant assumptions about literary value, and continues the tradition of feminist scholarship that began with feminist writers like Elaine Showalter, Adrienne Rich, Nina Baym, and Jane Tompkins." Jaime Harker, University of Mississippi
"Farr connects the contemporary phenomenon of Oprah's Book Club to long-standing themes and issues in American cultural historythe conflicts between literary and popular value; between the commitment to democratic participation and cultural elitism; between egalitarian ideals and gender, race, and class privilege; between aesthetic and commercial value; and between the intellectualism of academic readings and the passionate discussions of avid readers in book clubs. It is an excellent text for courses on cultural studies and literature that focuses on the social construction of reading and literary value in the United States." Patrocinio P. Schweickart, Purdue University
Cecilia Konchar Farr is Professor of English and Women's Studies and Chair of the English Department at the College of St. Catherine.