Oprah Winfrey, the publishing industry’s unrivaled tastemaker, will revive her popular book club next week after a two-year hiatus, promising the book business some of the sales and publicity it thought had vanished along with her weekday talk show.
The move could also be a boon for her beleaguered cable channel, OWN, which has struggled with low ratings.
Ms. Winfrey is expected to make several book selections each year. And for her first pick, she has chosen “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, a nonfiction retelling of the author’s epic hike of the Pacific Crest Trail that was published in March by Knopf.
"Wild," by Cheryl Strayed, is the first selection of the returning Oprah's Book Club.Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times“Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, is the first selection of the returning Oprah Book Club.
“I love this book,” Ms. Winfrey writes in the July issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, which will highlight the new book club on its cover and feature an interview with Ms. Strayed. “I want to shout it from the mountaintop. I want to shout it from the Web. In fact, I love this book so much and want to talk about it so much, I knew I had to reinvent my book club.”
While calling the new version Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, Ms. Winfrey will resuscitate many of the familiar markers of its first incarnation, including the sticker on the jacket of print books that proudly designates the title as sanctioned by Ms. Winfrey. (By Tuesday, bookstores around the country are expected to display copies of “Wild” with the Oprah seal.)
But in a nod to the millions of readers who have abandoned print books for e-books, Ms. Winfrey has updated the club with digital and social-media elements. The e-book versions of the selected book, for instance, will include margin notes from Ms. Winfrey highlighting her favorite passages.
“This is a book club for the way people live and read today,” Sheri Salata, the president of OWN, said in a statement. “In addition to the traditional way, we also access books on smartphones, e-readers and tablets and we talk to our friends about them through social media. Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 takes the Oprah.com online community, readers of O Magazine and OWN viewers and connects them through their shared love of great books.”
Before she stopped selecting books altogether in 2010, Ms. Winfrey had picked 65 books since 1996, a mix of contemporary and classic works. For many years, a book’s selection as an Oprah-sanctioned title translated into instantly skyrocketing sales of more than a million copies, extraordinary numbers for any title.
In 2002, Ms. Winfrey temporarily put her book club on hold, but picked it up a year later with classic novels like “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.
The last titles Ms. Winfrey chose, in 2010, were “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations.”
Her greatest influence remained in plucking new books from the pile, often lifting a little-known author like Jacquelyn Mitchard or Anita Shreve to household-name status. When Ms. Winfrey halted her daytime talk show last year, book publicists mourned the loss of what was easily the most desirable platform to promote an author.
In theory, Ms. Winfrey now has more room than ever to promote a book club, with a 24-hour cable network bearing her name. On OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, she hosts a weekly show called “Oprah’s Next Chapter” that airs on Sunday nights.
But the show draws between half a million and two million viewers on a typical week, a relatively paltry number compared to the six to eight million viewers for her weekday, hourlong broadcast talk show that ended in 2011.
In the new version of her book club, Ms. Winfrey will solicit questions from readers on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #oprahsbookclub, and answer the questions online.
Ms. Strayed’s book, while unsentimental at its core, is the kind of story of resilience and self-invention that Ms. Winfrey has championed.
Confronted with a life that was falling apart — Ms. Strayed’s mother had died of cancer, her marriage to a kind-hearted man had broken up — she set off for California on a solo, months-long, treacherous hike through the desert and mountains.
Writing in The New York Times, Dwight Garner said the book had reduced him to a puddle of tears in a coffee shop. “It’s uplifting, but not in the way of many memoirs, where the uplift makes you feel that you’re committing mental suicide,” he wrote. “This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound.”
On the New York Times nonfiction extended best-seller list of June 10, “Wild” was at the No. 22 spot. It made its debut at No. 7 in April.
Once it is stamped with the familiar seal bearing Oprah’s name, the book is almost certain to begin climbing up best-seller lists again.
“When it comes to a book, there is no better recommendation engine than a nod from Oprah,” said Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Knopf, part of Random House and the publisher of “Wild.”
Brian Stelter contributed reporting
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