When Oprah Winfrey, then the brightest star on daytime TV, began her book club in 1996, inexpensive e-books and e-readers seemed more futurist rumor than everyday reality. Social media could have meant friendly reporters.
“I love this book”: Oprah Winfrey says Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, ‘Wild,’ inspired her to relaunch her widely influential book club.
Now, as Winfrey, co-owner of a struggling cable network, launches Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, she’s seeking a literary home on a digital landscape. Comparing today’s fragmented do-it-yourself media with the world of 1996 is like comparing Winfrey’s 42-acre estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., with her birthplace amid the rural poverty of Kosciusko, Miss.
Publishers and booksellers cheer her club’s revival, despite questions whether the new Winfrey, with a much smaller TV audience, carries the influence of the old Winfrey, who turned 70 books into best sellers.
On Sunday, Winfrey’s interview with memoirist Cheryl Strayed, the first author chosen for the new book club, airs on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday (11 a.m. ET/PT) and simultaneously stream on Oprah Radio and on OWN’S Facebook page. (OWN is short for Oprah Winfrey Network.)
Ratings show that the audience for Winfrey’s weekly show Super Soul averaged only 114,000 viewers in the past month — a sliver of her more than 5 million to 6 million viewers when her daily syndicated show ended its 25-year run last year. At its peak, The Oprah Winfrey Show averaged 12 million viewers.
What hasn’t changed is how Winfrey, America’s favorite reader, reacts when she loves a book.
This spring, she read Strayed’s inspirational memoir, Wild, about the author’s solo 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother, the destruction of her marriage and experimentation with heroin.
Winfrey, who says she read Wild in part in hardcover and on her Kindle and iPad, writes in the July issue of O, the Oprah Magazine: “I love this book. I want to shout it from the mountaintop. I want to shout it from the Web … I knew I had to reinvent my book club.”