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On September 17th, Oprah will announce her latest book club pick, the 14th anniversary of her first-ever book club selection. With her talk show ending in 2011, it’s possible that this book, her 64th pick, will be her last.
She may be launching her own cable network and who knows what sort of incarnation the book club will have there (I’m betting an entire half-hour show with Oprah’s name and influence, but not presence), but this may be the end of an era. It’s unclear how many Oprah followers will follow her to cable television and how far her reach will be once her beloved talk show has ended. But all this is speculation for another time. What remains is this question: Considering this pick is possibly the last, what will it be? Will she go for a recent read and turn it into a blockbuster? Revive a forgotten classic? Pick something completely different?
We here at Bookclub-in-a-Box are guessing her pick will be a recent publication, something published after 2008. It’ll be a respected title, but not one that had international reach. It’ll be long and weighty, but not as misery-filled as her previous picks. It’ll be poignant for Oprah and her show, but also for readers everywhere.
Here are five possibilities. What title do you think Oprah will choose? Share your suggestions in the comments!
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Why it has a shot: Freedom is shaping up to be the novel of the year. It was published at the right time and the people paying attention to Franzen aren’t necessarily the people who pay attention to Oprah. The redemption story may be too good to pass up, and selecting Freedom will show the world that Oprah has her finger on America’s literary pulse and a forgiving soul to boot.
Why it won’t get picked: The timing seems a bit off. The Oprah-labelled books are already at the printers and will be on shelves on September 17th. Franzen’s book came out very recently, so unless Oprah pre-emptively selected it, it seems unlikely.
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Why it has a shot: It’s the type of narrative Oprah loves, the all-encompassing slave narrative that transcends geographical and cultural borders. It’ll be a throwback to her previous involvement with turning such titles into films, represent her personal preferences and her history. Since it was published a few seasons ago, it missed it’s chance of entering the American cultural psyche. It was respected and well-reviewed without
Why it won’t be picked: It’s a Canadian book by a Canadian author and the themes might be a bit too heavy-handed for her final pick. This book would’ve worked better when Oprah was picking a book a month, not a book a year.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Why it has a shot: The book is heart-breaking, explores many themes that would resonate with Oprah and her fan-base, has already received critical acclaim, but is largely a word-of-mouth hit. While already fairly popular, it could use a boost from Oprah’s approval.
Why it won’t get picked: It’s been floating around and gaining steam for a year and a half, perhaps too long to make it buzz-worthy and not long enough to make it a modern classic.
Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino picked Ronald Cotton
Why it has a shot: Can you imagine the Oprah-centric episode for this book? Bringing the accuser and accusee together to discuss their book and what it was like to collaborate on a book together and heal together after the devastating false accusation? Oprah would be all over this.
Why it won’t get picked: Rape is a heavy topic and if this is indeed Oprah’s last mainstream pick ever, she might not want to go there. Plus, the last time Oprah tried to do non-fiction (remember James Frey?), it didn’t go so well. If this is indeed her final pick, she’ll want it to be fiction.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Why it has a shot: A first-time novelist produces an instant classic filled with pain and powerful questions? That has Oprah written all over it. Verghese’s own story is fascinating as well, coming to America to make it as a doctor and eventually winds up teaching writing at one of the most respected universities in the world.
Why it won’t get picked: It’s over a year old and has tons of critical and commercial acclaim already.
What do you think? There are rumors flying every which way and we don’t know what ones to listen to and what ones to ignore. We just know that we’re excited to read whatever Oprah selects this month and, regardless of what it is, are excited that Oprah will get people reading again.
The summer is a time for many people to lighten their workloads, take vacations and try to surround themselves with family, friends and fun events. To help you in this endeavor, we have put together our Bookclub-in-a-Box discussion list for 2010 and 2011.
These books can put you ahead in your fall reading schedule or simply provide you with an alternative to books you planned to read next year!
Recently, my cousin in New York recommended a book to me that had absorbed her so fully that she completely missed her subway stop on her way home from work. “It’s called As God Commands,” she told me, “written by Niccolo Ammaniti and translated by Jonathan Hunt.” As her literary taste had never disappointed me in the past, I went in pursuit of the book. An online search of the Toronto Public Library yielded Come Dio Comanda, the original Italian version, but nothing in English. Local bookstores? Nothing by that name, in any language. Had I not decided to browse the “A” aisle and see what other books by Ammaniti were there, I would not have discovered that the book I was looking for was indeed in stock, multiple copies in fact, published as The Crossroads. Crossroads! Whatever had that to do with the original title? Who chose it? And why? Not the translator (because it had already been published elsewhere in English under the original name), and clearly not the author.
Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published Millenium series was the subject of an article in the New York Times Magazine of May 23, which contained these interesting tidbits: The first installment of the trilogy, the one you have probably seen in every bookstore window as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was published in the original Swedish as (I’ll spare you the Swedish and trust the New York Times editorial department on the translation) Men Who Hate Women. In France, the title is Men Who Didn’t Love Women, and unless not loving women is considered the equivalent of hate in France, it would seem that these three titles refer to three very different books.
Interestingly, according to the article, Larsson’s Swedish editor is reported to have said that although the editing of the first novel went smoothly, “the one thing Larsson wouldn’t budge on was the unsexy title, Men who Hate Women.” I wonder what he would have thought of the North American title! The eagerly anticipated third volume of the trilogy has just appeared on American bookshelves as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest; in England it has been available for a few months as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. Not having read the book, I have no idea how many hornets, metaphorical or otherwise, are involved…but either there is one, or more than one; you can’t have it both ways!
Those of you who have read the Bookclub-in-a-Box guide to Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes (Canadian title)/Someone Knows My Name (American title), are aware of how a book can change identity beginning with its “label”, or name. In the case of Hill’s novel, the word “negroes” was deemed to be politically incorrect, despite the fact that the title refers to a legitimate historical document which can be seen both at the National Archives at Washington and in Britain’s National Archives – and which is called…yes indeed…The Book of Negroes. The political and social implications of this name change make for an interesting discussion. While it is definitely related to the novel, it was never part of the author’s original intent.
The title of a book often provides a window into a writer’s objectives, but it can also point to any number of different discussion directions. This is especially true of books that have been translated. It is always interesting to consider the title’s origin and reinvention in relation to censorship, marketing, fear, political correctness or other reason.
If you come across an interesting change of title that has been discussed in your group, please share your thoughts with us.