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Category: Book Clubs

Oprah relaunches book club, saying 'I still believe in books'

Just in time for the summer reading season, Oprah Winfrey announced Friday that she's bringing back her book club. In a video posted on the website of her OWN network, Winfrey said, "This time, it's an interactive, online book club for our digital world. That's why we're calling it Book Club 2.0."

Her book club reboot is designed to take advantage of the new technologies available to readers. The e-book editions of her selections will be enhanced especially for the Oprah Book Club, with sharing capacities and notations from Winfrey herself. She also promises to use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to conduct the discussion about the book.

In the online video [see after the jump], Winfrey said was so enthusiastic about a book that she had to revive her book club in order to share it. That book is Cheryl Strayed's "Wild," a memoir about her 1,110-mile hike down the Pacific Crest Trail.

Holding up a hardcover edition of "Wild" to the camera, Winfrey said, "I still believe in books." She urged readers in her book club to go and purchase the book from a neighborhood bookstore, if that was how they liked to read. Book Club 2.0 is not leaving print books behind.

Founded in 1996, Oprah's Book Club became a fast track to fame and bestsellerdom. Sometimes she picked new novels, like Janet Fitch's "White Oleander," or an older book, like Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." After picking Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" in 2001, a controversy erupted over comments he made, and Winfrey suspended the Book Club. When she brought it back, it was less frequent, and initially stuck to classic works. In 2010, in a grand gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness, she selected Franzen's next novel, "Freedom," and he appeared on her show. She officially retired the book club later that year.

Details about Oprah's Book Club 2.0 will be available in the forthcoming issue of "O Magazine," which hits shelves next week.

Continue reading »

Los Angeles Public Library launches teen reading series

Cecil Castellucci at vromansWith young adult literature become something of a cultural juggernaut, it's about time the genre spawned a literary series in Los Angeles. Starting Thursday, the central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library will begin hosting a teen reading series on the fourth Thursday of each month.

Thursday's kickoff will feature local authors Lauren Kate ("Fallen in Love"), Abby McDonald ("Getting Over Garrett Delaney"), Blake Nelson ("Dream School"), Carol Tanzman ("Dancergirl") and Kathy McCullough ("Don't Expect Magic").

Each author will give a five-minute reading followed by a panel discussion and question-and-answer session led by Cecil Castellucci, founder of the teen reading series and an L.A.-based young adult author.

"It's about time we had a teen reading series here," said Castellucci, author of "First Day on Earth" and the upcoming "Year of the Beasts." "New York has had one for five years now.

"I'm really passionate and have been for years,  making sure that young adult gets the attention it deserves," added Castellucci, who runs a monthly young-adult reading club at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. "Because we're so spread out here, it's sort of difficult to get everybody together in one place. I've been longing for community."

FalleninloveCastellucci has been a part of the New York Public Library teen reading series for several years. She was part of a panel of seven young adult authors the Central Library in downtown L.A. hosted in November for the young-adult librarians at its 72 branches.

Eva Mitnick, acting manager of youth services for the Los Angeles Public Library, credits the teen reading series' creation to "the absolute awesomeness and energy of that panel discussion" and Castellucci's participation in a similar panel in New York.

"It's Cecil who is the force of nature behind this," Mitnick said.

The teen reading series will be held the fourth Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in Meeting Room A at the Los Angeles Public Library, 630 W. 5th St. www.lapl.org/ya/events/teenscape.php


Young adult lit comes of age

'The Disenchantments' book review

'Beneath a Meth Moon' book review

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Teen reading series founder Cecil Castellucci at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena; "Fallen in Love" book jacket. Credit: Young-adult author Cecil Castellucci; Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Oprah Winfrey's next big literary surprise: J.K. Rowling [updated]


An interview with J. K. Rowling will broadcast on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" this Friday, it was announced Monday. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, is notoriously media-shy, but she met with Winfrey at a Scottish hotel for an interview.

It's Winfrey's second big literary news of her last broadcast season, after selecting Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" as a book club pick, despite her troubled history with the author.

Winfrey and Rowling have something in common -- they're among only 14 women on the globe who are self-made billionaires, Forbes reported in June. Rival talk show hostess and home guru Martha Stewart had once made the list, but has fallen below the billion-dollar mark. There's no word of Rowling appearing on Stewart's show.

Although J. K. Rowling is media-shy, she is also media-savvy. The next film adaptation from her Harry Potter series -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" -- is coming to theaters in November. With a new trailer and excitement building, now is certainly a smart time to have a sit-down with the media -- or, more specifically, with Winfrey.

Will Rowling write another Harry Potter book? According to the Associated Press, that's one of the questions Winfrey will ask.

[For the record, 12:40 p.m.:  An earlier version of this post said that Oprah spoke to Rowling at her home; instead, they met at a hotel.]

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: J. K. Rowling with Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Harpo Productions Inc.

Oprah picks Franzen, officially

The new Oprah's Book Club pick is Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," which it calls "an epic family saga." A reader's guide, online discussions forums, description of the book and author bio are now online at Oprah.com.

Jonathan Franzen reads in L.A. and Oprah is in the air


Close to 600 people turned out Thursday night at the Aratani Japan-America Theater in downtown L.A.  to hear author Jonathan Franzen read and discuss his novel  "Freedom." Earlier that day, news had broken that Franzen's "Freedom" will be Oprah Winfrey's next book club selection. She is expected to announce her choice on her show Friday afternoon.

"I think that's great," said Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, who attended the event with her book group. Bynum was selected as one of the New Yorker's 20 writers under 40 earlier this year. "I'm pleased that people will be reading it and pleased that she didn't let the kerfuffle influence the way she feels about this book."

The kerfuffle was Oprah's selection, in 2001, of Franzen's last novel, "The Corrections." Franzen told a reporter that he was ambivalent about having the Oprah book club sticker on his novel; the story quickly spread, and Oprah, dismayed, pulled the plug on her book club for a time. By choosing Franzen again, Oprah can turn a story of disconnection into one of reconciliation.

"That'd be cool, that'd be nice" said Desi Candari of Riverside, a collector with a stack of Franzen hardcovers. "I'd like to see them face to face."

The announcement has not yet been confirmed, and Franzen didn't mention it during his onstage conversation with Meghan Daum. But the very first question from the audience was about the news that "Freedom" is Oprah's next book club pick.

"She gets to have the moment of announcing," Franzen said smoothly, moving on to the next question.

If Franzen's book is going to be announced today, Franzen most surely knows. "I knew a month in advance," said Janet Fitch, whose novel "White Oleander" was the Oprah book club selection in May 1999. Fitch was sworn to secrecy. At Franzen's event, she recalled being on a book tour when a bookseller, a week before the announcement, opened a box of her books adorned with Oprah's book club sticker. "I practically crapped in my pants," she said.

When Oprah made the announcement that she'd selected "White Oleander," Fitch said, "I was at home, screaming at the television." About a month later, after readers had a chance to read the book, she joined Oprah on her show.

Franzen signs in Austin, Texas, on Friday. Asked by The Times when he'll get to Chicago, where Oprah's show is produced, he paused and said, "about a month."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jonathan Franzen reads at the ALOUD series in Los Angeles. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Why is everyone saying Oprah will pick Jonathan Franzen again?


Friday, on live television, Oprah Winfrey will announce her next book club pick. The choice is much anticipated in publishing circles, and a closely guarded secret. But Thursday's headlines are already trumpeting what some say Oprah's next book club book will be: "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen.

Publishers Weekly: Oprah picks 'Freedom'

The Associated Press: Oprah picks Franzen's 'Freedom' for book club

The New York Times: Oprah Picks Franzen for Final Book Club

New York magazine: Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, an Oprah Book Club selection?

MobyLives: J-Franz and Oprah: The Proof

The New York Post: Oprah Forgives Franzen?

Entertainment Weekly: Oprah absolves Franzen and picks 'Freedom' for the Book Club

A casual reader might be forgiven for thinking the choice has been announced. But in fact, no one has been able to get confirmation from either Oprah's team or Franzen's publisher. Franzen himself will be at ALOUD in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night; maybe someone will ask him.

The people who say Franzen's book has been picked are three unidentified booksellers (the source of the Associated Press report) and an anonymous source who sent a blurry photograph depicting Franzen's book adorned with an Oprah Book Club sticker to a blog (evidence or savvy Photoshop?).

These admittedly thin confirmations are being picked up and recirculated because the story is so good, so tempting. If Oprah selects Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," it will either be high irony or an elegant case of literary love restored.

As the last two reports above indicate, there has been bad blood between Oprah and Franzen. In 2001, she selected his novel "The Corrections" for her book club; he expressed qualms about the selection, which were widely circulated; Oprah decided to pull the plug on her book club. That's the short version. The long version was summed up well at the time by Laura Miller at Salon.com under the headline, "Book lovers' quarrel."

That's apt. While publishing struggles to find its way in an increasingly wired and distracted culture, one thing book lovers are starting to realize is that we're all in this together. We all adore reading, and the divisions between us -- of taste, of writers' rivalry for hot agents or publishers' competition for valued awards -- are secondary to the fact that we are a community of people who love books. There's no need to fight.

So yes, it would be ironic if Oprah's last book club pick favored the very author that made her suspend her book club and ignore contemporary fiction for a time. Franzen? Really? 

But it might also mark a reconciliation, a kind of bringing together of former literary antagonists in a generous move of closure for people who love books. And that would be so very Oprah.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Oprah Winfrey in 2009. Credit: Harpo Productions via Associated Press

The surprise on Oprah's best-books list

10 booksEdward P JonesOprahThe Known World

The 10th anniversary edition of O, the Oprah Magazine includes a list of 10 books that rocked Oprah's decade. Eight of them are, as you might expect, selections from Oprah Winfrey's book club, including Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" in 2000 and Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth," a 2008 selection.

What about the other two? One is "Discover the Power Within You" by Eric Butterworth, a spiritual-self-help classic. It's a book that Oprah has cited as an influence in the past.

The other, more surprising selection is Edward P. Jones' "The Known World." Although Oprah had frequently selected novels for her book club, when "The Known World" came out, she didn't select it as a book club pick.

After years of singling out a new book almost every month -- almost all brand new works of fiction -- the book club was in a period of near-hibernation. A scuffle with novelist Jonathan Franzen, who expressed mixed feelings about Oprah's selection of his book "The Corrections," had led to the book club's brief hiatus.

When the book club started up again, it was a mere trickle -- just two books each during the years 2002 and 2003 -- and the focus shifted from new fiction to classics. This dismayed the publishing industry, which had seen Oprah's book club selections regularly hit bestseller lists.

When Jones' novel, a revelatory story of African Americans owning slaves in the pre-Civil War south, came out, the book club was in the middle of a run of books that included John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner and Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." It would be four more years -- when Oprah selected Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" in 2007 -- before contemporary fiction returned to her list.

Back in 2005, Oprah praised Jones' novel on her website, leading some to hope that she might begin selecting fiction again soon. Instead, that year she tried memoir -- James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" -- and we all know how that turned out.

Perhaps this recent commendation will help bring Jones' novel to the attention of Oprah's army of readers. It has been noticed elsewhere -- it won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Edward P. Jones in 2004. Credit: Reuters

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What Goodreads will do with its new millions

GoodreadsOtis Chandleventure capital
Otis Chandler

Last week the books-and-social-networking site Goodreads announced it had received $2 million in venture capital, led by start-up-friendly True Ventures. This seems to position Goodreads as a leader in the field: Another book-sharing site, Shelfari, was acquired by Amazon.com in 2008. A third, LibraryThing, which also remains independent, has just 900,000 members to Goodreads' 2.5 million.

We tracked down Goodreads founder Otis Chandler (who, by the way, is not the former publisher of the L.A. Times; he's his grandson). He answered Carolyn Kellogg's questions about what the new moolah will mean for his company.

Jacket Copy: Goodreads just secured $2 million in venture capital funding. Is this your first big check?

Otis Chandler: The site was founded in December 2006. In December 2007 we raised an angel round, which has lasted us until now. We like December apparently!

JC: What things that are currently on Goodreads that you plan to enhance with the funding?

OC: Our first step was to pull the trigger on new servers to make the site faster and help us scale. We will be growing the team by three, four more people, mostly on the engineering side. In terms of the product, we will be using it to improve and enhance many features, including our brand-new "bookswap," our self-serve advertising product which is designed for authors and publishers to promote their work to Goodreads members. We will also be launching some new features, such as book and author quizzes, better e-book support, and improved cataloging tools.

JC: What cities have the most Goodreads members?

OC: In order: New York, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Bekasi [Indonesia], Portland [Ore.], Sydney, Seattle.

JC: Where have the most successful Goodreads offline meet-ups taken place? What do you think made them special?

OC: Our focus has been to facilitate members to interact and meet up on their own. Goodreads features over 20,000 groups and book clubs where members are reading and discussing books together. Many of these groups do meet IRL ("in real life," as some call it), and many are only available virtually. Goodreads has also organized four physical book swaps in Southern California, which have all been very successful. We plan to organize more, but our focus is on improving our online groups, and enabling members to operate book clubs through Goodreads that may or may not meet up in real life.

JC: Facebook has been wrestling with privacy concerns. Do any of those apply to Goodreads and your membership?

OC: Depends which issue you mean. Facebook's latest privacy change has really been a push to make more of their content publicly viewable by default, primarily their status updates. Goodreads has always had reasonable defaults and comprehensive privacy tools for our members to control what the world sees versus what their friends see -- and we have had very few complaints.

JC: Has Goodreads announced its best-of-2009 lists yet?

OC: For 2009 we are thrilled to be hosting the first-ever Goodreads Choice Awards [free membership required]. We looked at the most popular books on Goodreads in 2009 and used our reading statistics to compile lists in several categories, ranging from fiction and nonfiction to young adult series and graphic novels. Voting is open to all Goodreads members until Dec. 31, 2009. Winners will be announced in our January 2010 newsletter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Otis Chandler at the Santa Monica Public Library in 2007. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Oprah picks African story collection: 'Say You're One of Them' by Uwem Akpan

Oprahsayyoureoneofthem Oprah Winfrey, whose book club selection has been known to shoot sales numbers into the stratosphere -- call it the Eat Pray Love Effect -- chose a collection of short stories by Nigerian native Uwem Akpan today.  "Say You're One of Them" is the debut book by Akpan, a Jesuit priest who studied creative writing at the University of Michigan.

The book's stories are set in Africa, and are often told from a child's point of view. "Say You're One of Them" was a finalist for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books' Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction -- as was another Oprah Book Club pick, David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." (Has she read "Finding Nouf" by Zoe Ferraris yet? That book took our award).

While popular wisdom in the publishing industry is that short story collections don't sell, Akpan found a major publisher (Little, Brown) which supported his debut. On his website, Akpan writes about the very different world where the stories began:

I was inspired to write by the people who sit around my village church to share palm wine after Sunday Mass, by the Bible, and by the humour and endurance of the poor.

Growing up, my mother told me folktales and got me and my three brothers to read a lot. I became a fiction writer during my seminary days. I wrote at night, when the community computers were free. Computer viruses ate much of my work.

Finally, my friend Wes Harris believed in me enough to get me a laptop. This saved me from the despair of losing my stories and made me begin to see God again in the seminary. The stories I saved on that first laptop are the core of Say You're One of Them.

The idea of Oprah moving to engage her audience with both a short story collection and with fiction set in Africa is certainly welcome among literary types. Most of them, anyway. "['Say You're One of Them'] only reinforces Western stereotypes about Africa -- that it is a wasteland of child soldiers, poverty, and corruption," Rob Spillman, the editor of "Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Fiction," writes in the Huffington Post. "While there are serious problems in much of Africa, this is not the only reality."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press

Howard Dean's book club and more book news


Howard Dean has taken a new chairmanship -- of the Progressive Book Club. Modeled to be a counter to the longtime Conservative Book Club, the Progressive Book Club describes itself as "a 21st century platform that enables people who want to learn, connect, debate, support progressive causes and take action." All while reading books -- sounds tiring.

Michael Connelly recommends five favorite books at the Daily Beast, by Vicki Hendricks, Jesse Katz, George Pelecanos, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Wambaugh. Connelly's new novel, "The Scarecrow," is his best work in 13 years, according to The Times' review.

A new roadie book includes what it says is a decades-old drunken confession of the murderer of Jimi Hendrix. Allegedly, Hendrix's manager was hoping to cash in an insurance policy and keep the rock star from leaving him. No matter how unlikely the claims are, it does make "Rock Roadie: Backstage and Confidential With Hendrix, Elvis, the Animals, Tina Turner, and an All-Star Cast" by James "Tappy" Wright a bit more interesting.

Marilynne Robinson has won the women's-only 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction for "Home." The book, which has garnered many accolades, also won the L.A. Times book prize for fiction in April, and Robinson appeared at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Director Danny Boyle -- whose film "Slumdog Millionaire" earned lots of awards -- has acquired the rights to Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found," a nonfiction book that was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Howard Dean with actor Kal Penn in August 2008. Credit: nmfbihop via Flickr.


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