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Oprah's Book Club enters new chapter by cutting back

(CNN) -- Oprah's Book Club will stop being a monthly feature and Oprah Winfrey will only promote a book when it gains her "heartfelt recommendation," according to a statement by the talk show host.

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

Books will continue to be a regular feature on the show, however, a spokeswoman for Winfrey's show told CNN.

"She feels very strongly she can only recommend books when she's compelled to share them, as she said," the spokeswoman said. "She'll continue to read books, and she'll continue to feature books."

Winfrey's show often showcases books not connected with her book club. Recent books mentioned include Phil McGraw's "Self Matters," Joan Anderson's "An Unfinished Marriage," and health and diet books by Dr. Dean Ornish.


In its six-year history, Oprah's Book Club has become a national phenomenon. Books she recommended become automatic bestsellers; she has made unknown authors national names and introduced well-known authors to whole new audiences. A recommendation by Winfrey can be worth hundreds of thousands of copies in sales.

The book club is credited with inspiring publishers to include "book club guides" in many books, believed to appeal to book club readers, whether the works have been chosen by Oprah or not.

In fact, the impact of the book club has become so pronounced -- and the "Oprah's Book Club" logo so familiar -- that, for some in the publishing industry, the subject makes them uncomfortable.

Author Jonathan Franzen caused a minor tempest last fall when his book "The Corrections" was made a selection. In interviews, Franzen worried about his place in the "high-art literary tradition" and complained the Oprah logo on his book cover amounted to a "corporate" endorsement.

Winfrey then withdrew the offer, saying she regretted if Franzen was uncomfortable with the selection, and canceled the traditional dinner party given to the author, where he or she usually talks to guests about his or her work.

But publishers, not surprisingly, remain supportive of Winfrey's interest in books.

"I have no doubt that Oprah will remain committed to bringing life-expanding novels -- their themes and their authors -- to the attention of the huge audience that she inspires. It seems the frequency and format of her book recommendations will now change but not Oprah's underlying mission of getting people to read to enrich themselves and to better understand others," said Anne Messitte, publisher of Vintage Books and Anchor Books, two Random House imprints. Ten Vintage and Anchor books have been Oprah selections.

"Oprah has done a great service on behalf of books and readers; the publishing industry should be grateful for her vision and commitment to reading, and for the sales windfall that's been a part of it," Messitte added.

From Mitchard to Morrison

Winfrey -- who chooses all the book club books herself, according to an interview she gave Publishers Weekly -- has been criticized for tending to select books about broken homes or featuring female characters searching for identity. But her selections are often works by honored authors -- including Barbara Kingsolver, Ernest J. Gaines, Joyce Carol Oates, and Toni Morrison -- and several works went on to win awards, including Franzen's novel and Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible."

On her Web site, Winfrey says her own favorite books include "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "Sula" and "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by frequent guest Maya Angelou, and "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.

The first book club book was Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean." The current book -- the club's 46th pick -- is "Sula."

Winfrey, who's worth hundreds of millions of dollars and runs a media empire that includes a production company and O Magazine, said the book club is one of her prime achievements. "It's one thing to win an Emmy and special awards," she told Publishers Weekly. "It's another thing for somebody who hasn't picked up a book since they were forced to in high school to read [Morrison's] 'Song of Solomon' and start thinking differently about their own life as a result."


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