Oprah’s Contribution to Literacy (@Oprah)

Obviously, I love to read. This blog wouldn’t be in existence if I didn’t. I can’t imagine not having books in my life and I find it strange when someone says they don’t read unless they have a very good reason. There would be a book written on just about any topic in the world so it can’t be that there isn’t something that interests you. Books are too long? Read a magazine. It still counts as long as there are words, preferably more words than pictures.

I may think it strange but I don’t judge. Your thing isn’t my thing and if you don’t read, you’re probably into something that I’m not. But let’s just proceed on the premise that reading is a Good Thing.

I’ve mentioned before that the Harry Potter books got a lot of kids and even adults reading. Surely some people kept on reading other books after they finished HP and saw the movies. I should think that a whole new crop of readers was born with that series which makes me happy.

There’s another crop of readers with its seeds planted in pop culture. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Oprah Winfrey. (I hear you groaning there in the back!) Oprah is a very powerful influence these days. I think she is to be much admired. She grew up poor and pulled herself up into the world, making a career in broadcasting and then broke out into fame with her talk show. I was never a habitual watcher but I did enjoy her show. She’s reached heady heights with a magazine, tv network, charities, acting, producing and much more. She is generous with her fans and her philanthropy has changed the lives of many.

Many years ago, while she was still doing her talk show, she started a book club. She recommended a book, urged her fans to read it and then had the author on the show a few weeks later to talk about the book. As social media grew, there could be discussions online about the book. She stopped the book club for awhile then brought it back by espousing American classics and is still promoting books and authors now. Many of her books support African American authors and stories because that’s what touches her, what she can relate to the best but the list of her books spans a diverse variety of authors and genres. There are even some Canadian authored books. (A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, one of my favourites) There are some really talented authors that would have been overlooked had she not shone the light on them.

I’ll admit that I didn’t really jump on the Oprah Book Club bandwagon, probably due to not being a regular follower of her tv show at the time or over the years. I have read a few of the books that are on her list-to-date though not because they were picked for her book club. Most of her picks were not stories that drew me in but there are some on her list of 76 to date that also happened to be a few of my favourites. In addition to the Ann-Marie MacDonald book already mentioned, two more that I loved are Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. The thing is, I was already a reader before the book club came to her as a Really Good Idea.

The point that I’m trying to make is that Oprah’s Book Club sparked a huge interest in reading among her fans. Her sticker on a book could make it a best seller, whether it was newly published or whether it was a classic from the 19th or early 20th Century (Dickens, Pearl S. Buck, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck). Her recommendations would open up a new type of book for many that might not have thought about reading a classic, or a book that tackles a heavier subject.

Oprah loves to read and she picks the books that she enjoys. People can’t submit a book for consideration. She finds her books the way the rest of us do, word of mouth, friends and family, advertising, best seller lists, social media recommendations, and many other ways. She’s brought the written word to literally millions over the years. Even if her choices might not be mine all the time, I applaud her contribution to literacy and the enrichment of lives through the written word.

Oprah, if you’re reading this, (one can wish, right?) can I just suggest some wonderful Canadian authors? Miriam Toews, Frances Itani, Kathleen Winter, Richard Wagamese, Michael Ondaadje, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findlay, Margaret Atwood. That’ll do for a start!

Check out Oprah’s book list to date if you want to read something new. On Twitter, #oprahsbookclub has book chat and her official Twitter is here.

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