There’s probably someone on this side of the pond who hasn’t heard of Oprah, but I can’t think of who that person would be or where they’re hiding. In the US she can make a book and an author. With just a word (“bookclub”) she can make an unknown author famous and well-off. She can take an established author’s 973-page tome (that only the most voracious readers would buy) a must-read and best-seller. (I bought Ken Follett’s said book as a present for my husband based on her recommendation.) She can make nonfiction sound enthralling. She makes “literary” exciting. No one has the kind of influence over books like Oprah.
Well, no one except Oprah has that level of influence here in the US.
Apparently, Britain has their own version of Oprah in the form of Richard and Judy’s Book Club, although it really isn’t Richard or Judy who holds the power. It’s Amanda Ross. She picks the books that the television show makes hits. And, unlike Oprah, she’s not known for choosing huge, challenging, tear jerking, literary books by seasoned authors.
Ms. Ross said:
"My choices are largely instinctive. They come from having produced entertainment shows for years, and knowing that a good story is a good story, no matter if it's fiction or nonfiction, or even what style it's told in."
And, unlike Oprah, sometimes she doesn’t even read the entire book before choosing it.
Working with a team of three assistants, she reads - or at least samples - the hundreds of books that are submitted each year.
According to the Telegraph article:
Her tastes rest solidly and reassuringly in the mainstream of intelligent, modern, popular fiction; and it is hard to argue, on the basis of her latest list, that she's got it wrong.
The article also said that Ross “happily admits” that “she musters very little in the way of literary sophistication.”
To tell you the truth, I’d like, once in a while, for Oprah to rally the millions that read her bookclub choices around a regular book, one that the average person would buy, finish, and love. A mystery, a romance, a fantasy, a cozy. One that doesn’t necessarily take us into the depths of depravity or the suicidal mind of a drug addict or the epic history of England. One that won’t turn our minds into a million little pieces of shredded nerve endings.
Instead of having hidden meanings or social impact or needing a wheelbarrow to be carted around, it’s just a really good read. One that keeps you guessing. One that makes you stay up half the night to finish. One that makes you miss your stop on the subway because you’re so lost in the plot.
One that you would be happy you read even if it was your hairdresser who recommended it, not Oprah. But, of course, I’d want Oprah to recommend it so that author could become a national best-seller. Or, if not Oprah, then Amanda Ross via the Richard and Judy’s Book Club.