Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oprah's Picks - where are they now? Part 2.

In December, I did a post looking back at some of the early picks in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club and what the authors whose books were chosen have been up to since. Oprah's Book Club has been running since 1996, and the current selection (Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan) is #63: that's a lot of books and a lot of authors. In my last post, I promised a continuation .... here it is!

We'll pick this post up in 2000, a year of almost exclusively American fiction picks, with one notable exception: Daughter of Fortune (Hija de la Fortuna) by Chilean author Isabel Allende. This historical novel tells the story of young woman who travels from Chile to the United States during the height of the California Gold Rush. Allende was already a well know and respected author in 2000, but in the years since her selection by Oprah, Allende's reputation as a writer has only grown. She has published both fiction and memoirs in the last few years - including My Invented Country - a memoir of her life as a Chilean living in exile. Her fiction is frequently compared to another well known South American author - Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, in part because both authors are associated with magic realism. Her most recent novel is La isla bajo el mar- another historical piece. Released in Spanish last summer, the English version Island Beneath The Sea is due in April.

In 2001, Oprah began to slow with her selections but there were a few notable picks. For Canadians, the inclusion of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance caused a big stir. Having won the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award previously, the book was already well known - particularly in Commonwealth countries, but its inclusion made the author a household name in America. Although A Fine Balance had already been on bookstore shelves for 6 odd years, Mistry's follow up Family Matters, came out soon after. Mistry's most recent work is The Scream - a short story published with illustrations by Tony Urquhart.

2001 was also notable for a book that didn't become a part of Oprah's Book Club (sort of): The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Announced as a pick for the book club in the fall of 2001, Franzen's appearance on the show was canceled after he reportedly expressed concerns about the branding that comes with being an Oprah book. (In case you forget the details, here's a link to a story about the whole thing.) The book was a bestseller and a National Book Award winner, and still remains in the archives of Oprah's selections, but was never discussed on the show as other titles have been. Franzen has published two books of nonfiction since, a collection of essays How to Be Alone and a memoir The Discomfort Zone (both of which seem aptly titled in light of the whole Oprah debacle). There's finally some light at the end of the tunnel for fans of Franzen's fiction: his next novel Freedom has a tentative release date for September of this year.

We'll finish this edition in 2002, the year that Oprah decided to put her book club on hiatus for awhile. In that year she picked only two books - Sula by Toni Morrison and (her second book by a Canadian author) Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald. MacDonald has been active in the years since, although not necessarily in terms of writing. She spent 7 years hosting the CBC television program Life and Times and now hosts The Doc Zone. Despite being busy with a TV career, MacDonald still found time to pen a second novel, 2003's The Way the Crow Flies, and has also published the play Belle Moral - a reworked version of her earlier play The Arab's Mouth. Although it's been more than a decade since the original release of Fall On Your Knees, the epic Cape Breton set novel is still much in the minds of readers. It will be debated this year on CBC's Canada Reads program.

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