The First 80 of Oprah's Book Picks

Claire Handscombe

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Every time my copy of O Magazine (RIP) used to turn up in my postbox, I flipped straight to the book section. Sometimes, that was the only thing I read – I love the magazine, but life is short, and time gets away from me every month, long before I can get around to doing and reading everything I wanted to do and read. The pages showcasing books recommnded by Oprah were a non-negotiable must – the book world takes notice of her opinions. They were great for adding yet more titles to my TBR on Goodreads and getting clued up on what we’ll be selling at the bookstore where I work.

Oprah’s wildly popular TV show was very influential. So influential, in fact, that there’s a business term for it: the Oprah Effect. A mention by Oprah can be the making of a previously unknown brand, and books recommended by Oprah see their sales soar. Of the 70 books she recommended on her show between 1996 and 2011, 59 made it onto the USA Today Bestseller List. 22 hit number one – including Tolstoy’s classic, Anna Karenina. Her most-recommended author was Toni Morrison – many of us are so grateful that Oprah helped spotlight her incomparable books.

Here's a list of the 70 books that were recommended on the TV version of Oprah's Book Club -- from newest pick to oldest pick.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Night By Elie Wiesel

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

East of Eden By John Steinbeck

Sula by Toni Morrison

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir and Michèle Fitoussi

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Open House by Elizabeth Berg

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

A Map of The World by Jane Hamilton

Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

River, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke

Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Jewel by Bret Lott

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

Paradise by Toni Morrison

The Best Way to Play by Bill Cosby

The Treasure Hunt by Bill Cosby

The Meanest Thing to Say by Bill Cosby

A Virtuous Woman by Kay Gibbons

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

In 2012, the magazine teamed up with TV channel Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) to launch Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 – a new, online version of what had been the very influential monthly pick on Oprah’s own wildly popular show. And in 2019, Oprah announced a new partnership with Apple TV.

Here's a list of the first ten books recommended by Oprah since relaunching the book club in 2012.

BECOMING BY MICHELLE OBAMA

This phenomenal, inspiring memoir by the former (and forever in our hearts) First Lady is the latest pick by Oprah. “I want the whole world to read this book,” she said. “It is Michelle Obama’s story, of course, but I know it’s going to spark within you the desire to think about your own becoming.”

THE SUN DOES SHINE BY ANTHONY RAY HINTON

This story is the memoir of a man who spent 30 years on death row after being wrongly convicted of murder. Oprah says it “reads like an epic novel”.

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE BY TAYARI JONES

“You’ll come away with greater empathy and understanding,” says Oprah about this book. “You’ll want to talk about it with somebody.” Barack Obama has praise for it too, calling it a “moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.”

BEHOLD THE DREAMERS BY IMBOLO MBUE

Oprah says of this one that it “has all the dynamics, heart and soul, of family, connection, what it really means to know what home is. It has drama. It has great antagonists and protagonists…it has all the elements for a read that allows you take your mind and thoughts and what it means to be a certain kind of person in the world.”

LOVE WARRIOR BY GLENNON DOYLE

This one is a memoir of one woman’s self-discovery after her marriage imploded. When she announced this pick, Oprah said that it “captures the beauty that unfolds when one woman refuses to settle for good enough, stops numbing or denying her pain, and makes her own rules for love and life.”

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD BY COLSON WHITEHEAD

“This book had kept me up all night, kept my heart in my throat, almost afraid to turn the next page,” Oprah said of this acclaimed depiction of pre–Civil War life for enslaved African Americans.

RUBY BY CYNTHIA BOND

Ephram has loved Ruby forever, and when she returns home he has to choose between protecting her from violence, and loyalty to his own sister. “I’ve never read a book like this before…the prose is luscious,” was Oprah’s verdict.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS BY SUE MONK KIDD

This novel follows the lifelong story of Hetty, given to Sarah on her 11th birthday as a handmaid, and Sarah herself, who goes on to become a pioneer in the abolitionist movement. Oprah says: “It is layered, it is gripping, it’s historical and based on real life from pre-war Charleston, South Carolina.”

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE BY AYANA MATHIS

This is a novel of a mother’s 12 children and their lives, which illuminates the story of The Great Migration. “This book touched me so deeply. The spirit of sacred truths just leap from the pages,” says Oprah.

WILD BY CHERYL STRAYED

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of walking the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother passed away was the first pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. She called it “stimulating” and “thought-provoking”.

Image by Sherlock_wijaya purchased for Editorial Use from Shutterstock

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC
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