August 2 turned out to be a big day for Colson Whitehead. Not only was it the launch date of his new novel The Underground Railroad, which had already received rapturous advance reviews. It was also the day that Oprah Winfrey announced that The Underground Railroad would be the latest selection of her Book Club. As we well know, there is no better friend to a book than Oprah. Her book club has harnessed the power of social media to form a reading community that builds exponentially. She and Whitehead are now promoting The Underground Railroad on just about every platform that exists. What more could any author dream of? (Well, perhaps any author except Jonathan Franzen, who famously snubbed Oprah’s choice of his The Corrections in 2001 and turned himself into quite the pariah for a while. Not that this hurt his book sales any—in fact, The Corrections enjoyed a good spike after the brouhaha.)
My question is this: Oprah, what took you so long? This was Oprah’s first new Book Club selection in eighteen months. She claimed that she hadn’t read any book during that time that she loved enough to want to choose. Fair enough, but I’ll bet most of us could have offered her a few suggestions. All the Light We Cannot See? Beautiful Ruins? Maybe even a great YA like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda?
In the past, Oprah felt free to choose books that had been out for a while, or established classics by writers like Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Tolstoy. She kept the country reading, at a time when literacy was and remains a matter of real concern. World leaked out late last week that she may now have another book pick lined up for September. If so, it’s a gratifying sign for readers, writers, and the entire publishing industry. Let’s hope Oprah doesn’t plan to take another eighteen-month hiatus anytime soon.