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What Oprah has done for books

Her impact on the book world was called the "Oprah Effect" for good reason – everything she touched became publishing gold.

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“She made book discussions interesting, educational, and entertaining,” Greco said. “Literature professors can be interesting and educational, but are they entertaining?”

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Oprah’s Book Club certainly has been.

There was the headline-making James Frey controversy, in which Oprah excoriated Mr. Frey for fabricating parts of his memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” She had Frey back on air in her final season to apologize. “I got ambushed,” Frey said, adding, “In some ways I deserved it.” Since then, Frey’s latest book, “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible,” has risen from 10,286 on Amazon's sale ratings to 253.

And then there was Jonathan Franzen, whose book “The Corrections” was chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick in 2001. Mr. Franzen greeted the news with less than full enthusiasm, warning his work “was a hard book for that audience,” and warily questioning the desirability of seeing Oprah’s “logo of corporate ownership” on his book’s cover.

Oprah canceled Franzen’s on-air book club dinner. He later apologized and Oprah again selected his novel “Freedom” for her book club. Chastened, he appeared on the show, apologized, and, like the Oprah-Frey on-air rapprochement, Oprah and Franzen went through a public reconciliation. After that, both Franzen novels soared to the top of multiple bestseller lists.

The books benefited from the drama, though Oprah has acknowledged that her book club shows rarely garnered her best ratings.

What does that mean for future book club shows? Will Oprah continue her literary endorsements on OWN, her new cable network?

Publishers can breathe a sigh of relief. Oprah told USA Today she is “going to try to develop a show for books and authors,” though she provided no details and the OWN show likely won’t garner the ratings her network TV talk show has. “Some things you do because it is necessary,” Oprah said, acknowledging that her book club shows were rarely her most popular. “We've done OK with them. We found the more I could connect the author and the book to the audience, the better the numbers would be.”

Stay tuned for more Kleenex-worthy couch time.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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