Reading with Oprah
The Book Club that Changed America
Kathleen Rooney

The first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is OBC

Adored by its fans, deplored by its critics, the Oprah Book Club has been at the center of arguments about cultural authority and literary taste since its inception in 1996. Virtually everyone seems to have an opinion about this monumental institution with its revolutionary and controversial fusion of the literary, the televisual, and the commercial. Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney is the first in-depth look at the phenomenon that is the OBC.

Rooney combines extensive research with a lively personal voice and engaging narrative style to untangle the myths and presuppositions surrounding the club, to reveal its complex and far-reaching cultural influence, confronting head-on how the club became a crucible for the heated clash between “high” and “low” literary taste. Comprehensive and up-to-date, the book features a wide survey of recent commentary, and describes why the club closed in 2002, as well as why it resumed almost a year later in 2003, with a new focus on “great books.” Rooney also provides the most extensive analysis yet of the Oprah Winfrey–Jonathan Franzen contretemps.

Through her close examination of each of the club’s selected novels, as well as personal interviews and correspondence with OBC authors, Rooney demonstrates that in its tumultuous eight-year history the OBC has occupied a place of prominence unique in the culture that neither its supporters nor detractors have previously given it credit for.

“Rooney takes a steady, smart look at a situation that is both fascinating in its own right and deeply revealing about ‘how it is’ in our cultural life these days.”
—Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

“In her lively, information-filled account of the club’s history, Rooney . . . defends Oprah as a genuine ‘intellectual force.’ . . . Accurately captures the cultural unrest surrounding the Oprah Book Club and raises numerous thoughtful points about its significance.”
Publishers Weekly

“Rooney’s analysis of the Oprah Book Club is both incisive and sympathetic, both scholarly in its methodology and accessible in its presentation. Anyone interested in the multiple diversities which characterize twenty-first century American culture will find Reading with Oprah provocative and entertaining.”
—Tara Ghoshal Wallace, author of Jane Austen and Narrative Authority


Kathleen Rooney is a writing instructor at Emerson College. Winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize in 2004 and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, she is editor of Redivider and has published a number of poems, articles, and reviews in the Nation, the Harvard Review, the Boston Review, Puerto Del Sol, and Cimarron Review. This book grew out of an article she wrote for the Nation about her visit to the show where Winfrey announced the end of the book club.


February 2005
230 pages, index, 6" x 9"
$24.95 Cloth