It was 4pm on Friday, September 17, 2010. The HarperCollins Canada office was strangely quiet. The printer was still, phone conversations had ceased, and all excel grids had faded away in to blackness or screen savers. A light flickered in the far corner and as I grew closer to it, voices and laughter could be heard. I opened the door and was shocked at what I was faced with: the entire office was watching Oprah.
It was Oprah’s book club pick Friday and all of the rumors, speculation and gossip was about to be put to rest. The internet had exploded with talk that Oprah was going to pick Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, in a remarkable display of forgiveness and respect. For those who don’t know, Oprah had 9 years ago picked Franzen’s last book, The Corrections, but, controversially, he turned her down. But this time was different. A group of professional adults were huddled around the boardroom television like a campfire, eagerly waiting the announcement and telling stories. There may have been a few Oprah impressions as well; “You get a car, and You get a car, and You get a car!” or “We’re all going to AusTRAAAAAlia!” I may or may not have seen a director jumping on a chair like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, but I’m not here to judge. For us it was more than an announcement, it was a celebration. An Oprah’s Book Club pick means that much more coverage and publicity for an exceptional novel, and, to put it bluntly, it means it is going to sell a ton of copies, and in this case it was well deserved. Freedom is an office favourite, most, if not all, of us had read it and loved it. As I looked around the room at the smiles, relaxed poses, and animated gestures I couldn’t help but think that this is why I got into publishing. We joked about what if she didn’t choose it and all of the talk wasn’t true. We laughed, but everyone in the room realized the importance of this announcement. It meant more people would get to read the book, it meant more people would hear about it, and it meant that a lot of hard work was going to pay off. But, most importantly, it meant more people would get to experience and feel as we did reading this novel, which is a great thing.
I used to scoff at Oprah’s book choices when I was younger. But, now being on the other side, I see the impact it can make. I walked into that boardroom and it was if I was surrounded by family. When Oprah said the words “Jonathan Franzen” and “Freedom” we all cheered, shook hands, and smiled. But, it was the look in everyone’s eyes that I will remember, the recognition of what it all meant and did not have to be spoken. That is what an Oprah’s Book Club pick meant to us.
How do you feel about it? Have you read Freedom already and, if not, are you more likely to now that Oprah has picked it?