Why is everyone saying Oprah will pick Jonathan Franzen again?


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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 clubThe New York Times: Oprah Picks Franzen for Final Book ClubNew York magazine: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, an Oprah Book Club selection?MobyLives: J-Franz and Oprah: The ProofThe 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 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