Since its inception in 1996, getting selected for Oprah’s Book Club has been a very big deal. So big, in fact, that it could be considered the Holy Grail of authorhood—being picked pretty much guaranteed bestseller status and that you never had to worry about your publisher dropping you again. Over the years, Oprah has selected 65 books that have changed the course of many lives—from those who wrote them to those who adored them. Here, we talked to a few authors who made Oprah’s reading list and asked—what did it mean to you?
Read more reviews of Oprah's Book Club picks.
Uwem Akpan, Say You’re One of Them, 2009
“Being picked by Oprah was a great experience. I thank God and all the people who have helped me along the way.”
Maya Angelou, The Heart of a Woman, 1997
“When a book of mine was chosen to be an Oprah Book Club selection, I knew my work would be in the hands and minds of people around the world. I shouted, 'Hallelujah!' "
Maeve Binchy, Tara Road, 1999
“Oprah was, and still is, marvelous at bringing books to a new readership, and it was hugely exciting to be the first non-American to be chosen for her show. I remember it all very well. We talked for ages about relationships and truth and lies. It was about my book, Tara Road...Being chosen by Oprah and appearing on her show meant I was introduced to millions of new readers, and my books have had a huge readership since. It was an astounding experience for me, and my husband Gordon was there with me. Everyone in the big hotel thought we were very famous when Oprah’s huge white limousine came to collect us!”
Chris Bohjalian, Midwives, 1998
"I was a part of Oprah's Book Club in 1998, when it was still relatively new, and I understood the moment Oprah Winfrey and Alice McGee called that this was going to be among the greatest commercial blessings of my career. The fact is, no one has done as much as Oprah Winfrey to remind us of what words and reading and books can mean to the soul. In the six or seven months following the Midwives announcement, whenever I met readers in bookstores or libraries, there would always be a few women in the crowd who would tell me they had stopped reading novels until Oprah had reminded them of the enormous pleasures to be found in fiction. Likewise, I was constantly meeting readers who said they were intimidated by bookstores and libraries, until Oprah’s Book Club had given them the courage to walk in the door: Thanks to Oprah, there was always one book to anchor their search, one book they could ask for. And, invariably, that one book would lead to others that were not necessarily a selection of the Book Club. I saw this phenomenon everywhere I went. That, perhaps, is the greatest legacy of Oprah’s Book Club: It gave millions of people a way back into reading.”
Pearl Cleage, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, 1998
“Having my first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, chosen for the Oprah Book Club in October of 1998, was a great experience in every way. My book was presented to her vast audience with her personal endorsement and, as a result, spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. With the resulting royalties, I paid every bill I ever thought of having, stocked up on my favorite pens and bought myself several years of writing time. I have no doubt that many of the people who still read my novels, seven books later, first encountered me as an Oprah Book Club author. Often overlooked is the active universe of book clubs across the country that were formed as a direct result of women enjoying their participation in Oprah's Book Club and wanting to personalize and extend the experience. These organized groups of engaged readers are a wonderful resource for writers.”
Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog, 2000
“My wife is a dancer and choreographer. One night, early in our marriage, lying side by side in bed, she asked me what kind of hopes I had for my art.
‘It's not fame and fortune.’
‘What is it then?’
I lay there a while staring into the darkness until I knew what it was. ‘That it's taken seriously. People don't even have to like it, but I just don't want it to be completely ignored.’ Then came that phone call from Harpo Studios, and soon a novel I'd spent four years writing, a book that had been rejected by 24 publishers, was on its way to many, many people. Not everybody liked what she'd brought to them, but they read it; they took it seriously, and I remain forever grateful.”
Janet Fitch, White Oleander, 1999
"I've never been an optimist. I was the kind of person who geared up for the worst, your basic fortress mentality. So to have something astoundingly good drop out of the sky—being chosen for Oprah's Book Club—blew away my perceptual framework, my philosophical underpinning, it forced me to reevaluate my understanding of reality. The world, it seemed, was a far more mysterious place than I'd ever imagined, one in which wonderful things might also happen. I take risks now, I'm far more open to the possibilities. Let's say I've had to abandon my self-generated cloud of impending doom."
Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth, 2007
"The timing was perfect. After a gap of 18 years I had written the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth. We were gearing up for worldwide publication of World Without End when I started to get those mysterious messages from my publisher: "I need every phone number you're going to be at during the next four days. Can't tell you why." In the end Oprah called my cell phone when I was on an Autostrada in Italy. We sold a million copies of Pillars in America during the period for which it was Oprah's choice. And she turned out to be warm, smart, charming and gracious-and a true lover of books. What a great experience."
Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth, 1998
“Oprah's Book Club changed the way America read and brought to light voices that might not otherwise be heard. Mostly, I think the audience valued her opinion and trusted her, the way one might trust a friend who recommends a book. The Book Club will be greatly missed by authors and readers. Personally, I'm grateful to Oprah for reminding people that books still matter.”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 2000
"Oprah has provided a new definition, for writers at least, of the 'phone call that changes your life.' When I was a kid, anytime people ignored a ringing phone, someone would warn 'it might be Ed McMahon with that million-dollar sweepstakes.' Now, of course, we say, 'It might be Oprah.' "
Wally Lamb, She’s Come Undone, 1997; I Know This Much is True, 1998
“When my first novel, She's Come Undone, was published in 1992, I would sometimes invite my sons to play a game at our local mall. ‘Hey, guys,’ I'd say. ‘I'll give 50 cents to whoever can find Dad's book first.’ I would wait outside, patiently at first, and then not so patiently. Finally, the kids would emerge, slump-shouldered. ‘We can't find it, Dad,’ they'd say. ‘Can we still have the money?’ Fiver years later, Oprah held up Undone on her show, invited her vast audience to read it and suddenly the book was everywhere: in magazine ads and storefront windows, at the top of the bestseller lists, and in the hands of people I sat next to on trains and airplanes. Such is the power of Oprah's endorsement. It was thrilling!”
David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, 2008
"How did it feel? As if I'd been struck by luck-lightning. My life was at first scattered, then distilled. Scattered, meaning I spent the better part of a great-but-exhausting year traveling and talking with readers; and distilled, meaning when all that was over, I could devote myself full time to writing. In general, my daily life is now quieter than it has ever been."