Celebrate 30 Years of Oprah With Some Of Her Favorite Books
The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered 30 years ago today, on September 8, 1986. In the three decades since, Oprah has transcended the definition of “icon.” In fact, her influence is so widespread that there’s actually a term known as “The Oprah Effect.” It’s used to described the rapid increase in popularity that a book will receive once it’s been selected for Oprah’s Book Club.
Ashley: This newest pick for Oprah’s Book Club comes right on the heels of her last choice, The Underground Railroad; and while they may seem like vastly different books, you certainly won’t regret going straight from Colson Whitehead’s fantastic fiction tale to Glennon Doyle Melton’s immensely moving memoir, Love Warrior.
After Melton’s husband, Craig, reveals his past infidelities, she feels completely unmoored, seeing all the ways her past reality wasn’t as wonderful as she willed herself to believe. Instead of trying to run away and disassociate completely with these new wounds from past pains, Melton reexamines everything she believed, expected, and hoped for from herself and Craig, and begins to break down these flawed lines of thinking. It’s an invasive, introspective process that only makes Melton stronger and kinder in the end, a true love warrior. In confronting not just issues with her marriage, but also her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism, Melton explores the darkest places to show us all the brightest ones, where we don’t have to settle for half-hearted happinesses.
The Underground Railroad
Alex: With the likes of Oprah and President Obama in his corner and rave reviews from critics, Colson Whitehead’s latest novel bounded into my fall reading list seemingly out of nowhere. After finishing it, I’m not surprised by its meteoric ascent.
Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad makes metaphor literal and history tangible. In this antebellum tale, the Underground Railroad is a reality, a subterranean maze of tracks with nebulous destinations. For Cora, a slave who escapes the horrors of the Georgia plantation on the trains, the only direction that really matters is north. From these bones Whitehead builds a story that borrows tropes from Homer to Gulliver’s Travels to Les Miserábles while remaining, at its core, a wholly American tale. Grappling with America’s history of racism well beyond emancipation, Cora’s story is at once brutal and uplifting. Whitehead may take liberties with historical facts, but what emerges is, in many ways, a truer and more comprehensive portrait of America than you’d find in a history book.
Tifa: This new translation is an incredible read and worth it for just the preface alone. The additional forward provides some new timeline and event clarifications and story itself is a short and simple account, without much embellishment, since the narrative is dramatic enough on its own.
Elie Wiesel’s chilling first person account of the horrors of Auschwitz paints a stark portrait of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of incomprehensible evil. Not many people would be able to endure the horrors he experienced, and at such a young age, but his accounts of his and his family’s ordeal is outlined in unflinching honesty. While not only documenting the absolute madness of the Holocaust, he questions his own faith and philosophies, as well as the world’s relationship to and comprehension of such an era of unimaginable suffering and the legacy it leaves behind.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
David: With the publication of her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation.
This book presents a profound character study of moral isolation. The story centers on a deaf and mute man named John Singer, who befriends various misfits in a small Georgia town in the mid-1930s. Each of these misfits is searching for a way to escape small town life. It isn’t until Singer’s mute companion has a mental breakdown that Singer moves into the Kelly house, run by Mick Kelly. Singer finds solace in Kelly’s music, and their friendship finds beautiful ways to explore the human condition.
This book is written with an acute sense of racial tensions in a 30s era Deep South, while remaining an enduring classic for today’s audience.
The Bluest Eye
David (again!): Originally published in 1970, Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye quickly established the author as a preeminent voice in popular culture, eventually earning her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. What makes this book so spectacular is its pitch-perfect examination of what it means—and how it feels—to be black in America.
The plot focuses on Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old girl who desperately wishes for blond hair and blue eyes. For Pecola, these qualities represent the standard for beauty, and while much of her fondness for them is represented as harmless, the results couldn’t be anymore tragic. While not an easy book to get through, The Bluest Eye is certainly a raw, honest, and deeply moving experience.
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