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A television book club, UK-style

January 4, 2010 |  8:53 am

Cuttingforstone This weekend, British producer Amanda Ross announced the picks for her new show "TV Book Club." Called the Simon Cowell of publishing, Ross was the woman behind Richard and Judy's book club. For years, the popular talk show "Richard & Judy" -- or "chat show," as they say in the UK -- included, among its many topics, a book club. Like Oprah Winfrey's book selections, Richard and Judy's picks could turn quiet books into mega-bestsellers. At its height, the Richard and Judy Book Club accounted for 26% of the 100 bestsellers in the UK. When "Richard & Judy" was dropped by BBC4, many in British publishing were dismayed -- they'd lost a powerful bookseller.

Though Richard and Judy have continued their show elsewhere, it hasn't had the same profile. And Ross has embarked on a new venture, the upcoming "TV Book Club," a show that promises to talk about books on TV. Ten books were announced for 2010, featuring Abraham Verghese's "Cutting for Stone."

"My favourite book that I have found this time, I think, is 'Cutting for Stone'....it is quite quirky and nothing like any book we have had on the programme before," Ross told the Guardian. "We do make millionaires on this show, so these days I do choose authors who are really nice people."

Verghese was raised in Ethiopia by his Indian parents, and became a U.S.-educated medical doctor. After beginning to publish his nonfiction writing, he earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. He is now a professor at Stanford's medical school, and has published his nonfiction widely; "Cutting for Stone" is his first novel.

"Abraham Verghese's 'Cutting for Stone' is the first straightforward, quotidian novel set in and largely about Africa that I've read in a good long time," Susan Salter-Reynolds wrote in our review, "The kind Richard Russo or Cormac McCarthy might write, the kind that shows how history and landscape and accidents of birth and death conspire to create the story of a single life....Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair."

Verghese's book is joined by Nick Hornby's "Juliet, Naked," "The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters and George Pelecanos' "The Way Home," among others, in the first roster of the new show. But it remains to be seen whether British readers/viewers will embrace Ross' new show -- will the not-yet unveiled format, which promises new hosts and visiting comedians -- make a show dedicated to books a success?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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