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The once and future Oprah book club

May 23, 2011 | 12:35 pm

Oprah's Book Club, launched to a warm reception in 1996, soon became a juggernaut. Get selected by Oprah, sell a million books. But when her selections twice erupted in scandal -- first around Jonathan Franzen's comments, and then over James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" -- Oprah dialed the book club back, leaving publishers to miss her enthusiastic readership.

In Sunday's paper, we looked back at Oprah's book club with the help of Janet Fitch, Frey and Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi. "It was very brilliant invention; it worked beautifully," says FGS' Galassi. Yet now, "like any established institution, it doesn't have quite the same freshness, the excitement factor as when it first happened."

This week, Oprah's broadcast television show is headed to its close. What will that mean for the book club?

Oprah says it might just have a future. "I'm going to try to develop a show for books and authors," she told USA Today. The show, of course, would be on OWN, Oprah's new television network.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: In 1996, Oprah announced the first book club selection, Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean." Credit: Steve Green