Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago at the Midwest Writers Workshop, I was fortunate to work with Kathleen Rooney, an extraordinary poetry teacher. This literary superhero somehow got each member of her workshop to produce and/or revise about a half dozen poems in just as many hours. She also spoke on writing memoirs and getting published (she’s done a lot of both). And her dresses were fun and flouncy.
But wait: there’s more.
Kathleen is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, author of Oneiromance (an epithalamion), the forthcoming collection Robinson Alone, and other books. She is also an Oprahologist. That’s right. She knows all about the talk show queen, especially her renowned Book Club, and wrote the book Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America.
In this post, Kathleen gives us a rundown of Oprah’s book club app. We like Oprah, and we like literary apps. T.S. Poetry’s novel by Deborah Henry, The Whipping Club, was named one of Oprah’s Best Summer Reads, and we’re introducing our very own new app, WordCandy, which lets users combine sweet words and beautiful images to make a friend’s day.
It’s a delightful new world.
Apple’s slogan “There’s an app for that” is parroted ubiquitously because it can be applied to just about anything. As of June 1, 2012, it can also be applied to Oprah Winfrey’s book club. On that date, Oprah announced she was bringing back her popular club under the title Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, and that this time, she was going digital.
The new club is being billed as “a fully interactive online community for people who love reading” and is taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and GroupMe — a free mobile application that allows group text messaging.
Starting with the memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed, participants can download a specific Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 edition of her selection for Nook, Kindle and iPad. The extras — Oprah’s personal notes and the reading guide — are available online for people who do not have e- readers. Her website also features maps where participants can locate other participants across the globe. In this regard it stands to be more truly “social” than the previous club, so it makes sense that she’s doing more with social media.
The way she’s balancing traditional paper books with e-readers and mixing digital platforms with face-to-face contact among people in the real world is very much in keeping with the idea of “convergence theory” which suggests that new media do not overthrow and replace old ones, but operate in tandem with them. They shape one another. Oprah is using OBC 2.0 in a way that indicates how new and old media can and do exist synergistically.
When she moved away from her show toward her network, it seemed like she was rethinking the basic Harpo business model. And OBC 2.0 is a great way for her to indicate that she has a more holistic understanding of the way in which she interacts with her community than perhaps she was initially given credit for.
Rather than attracting a ton of broad attention — the kind that just translates into sky-high television ratings—she seems to be banking that it is a smarter long-term move to attract a kind highly involved and participatory attention. Clearly the numbers of participants for OBC 1.0 whose involvement might have been limited to buying the book and watching the show are not going to participate in OBC 2.0—those kinds of numbers are just not going to get deeply invested in what she’s doing here. So it’s going to be a smaller community, but it’s going to be a community that she will capture a larger share of the attention of and that she’s going to know a lot more about, all of which is valuable to the continuance of her project and to the advertisers who are going to support it. That’s the social media model — you don’t have to get everyone to watch you, provided you know extremely well who does watch you and what their habits are.
Oprah’s aspiration has always been to make this a book club, and in the beginning, back in 1996, that designation was kind of figurative. The idea was that she’d call it a book club and then maybe some actual book clubs in the actual world would read the books along with her — which they did. But instead of really being one big book club, it was a nexus of individual readers and book clubs that wanted to sail in Oprah’s armada. Now it stands to be more like an actual book club.
Photo by Bethan, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan and Kathleen Rooney.
T.S. Poetry Press’s title, The Whipping Club, was featured as a Summer Beach Read in Oprah Magazine.
- Bored by Your Apps? There’s an Oprah Book App for That - August 17, 2012
L. L. Barkat says
Kathleen, I’d be so curious to hear how you got to be an Oprahologist.
Pretty cool how Oprah is moving into the new space of social media. Perfect, in its way, for a media Queen. 🙂
kathleen rooney says
L.L., that is a good question. I suspect my longstanding fascination with Oprahology stems from my growing up in the Chicagoland area, former home base of her media empire. Once I was an undergrad at George Washington University (which is where I began my book Reading with Oprah), I was working summers and breaks at two independent bookstores in the Chicago suburbs (Downers Grove and Naperville), and I saw firsthand the massive influence Oprah’s reading recommendations had on customers. I was impressed by how Oprah was able to take two allegedly antithetical art forms, television and literature, and combine them into a single successful format, so I wanted to explore that concept more deeply. Funny thing: when I started researching Oprah’s Book Club, I was pretty suspicious/skeptical of it, but as soon as I looked into it further, I could not help but admire and applaud what she was doing.
L. L. Barkat says
So now you need to write about your book for us here 🙂 The whole thing is intriguing.
Especially because we at Tweetspeak hope to do similar things with poetry… bring together different “sides” that don’t at first seem to go together (we do this at many levels, and I think it would be fun for us to see the parallels in a different effort—namely, Oprah’s book club concept.)
The key, I think, is that it’s always about relationships. Oprah was watched by millions of people, mediated by television, but had an uncanny ability to make you think she was talking directly with you as an individual. She asked questions of her guests that we would ask. And her book selections ranged from literary to popular, so that she didn’t create a wall between her tastes and our tastes.
Good insightful post, Karthleen.
Megan Willome says
Just want to put in my plug for “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed’s excellent memoir. I like that it is focused on a specific event–hiking the Pacific Crest Trail–as a way of telling her story. I also like that she waited, like, 20 years to write it. If she’d ended it where she was at the end of the trail, it would not be complete. But she shows us where she is now.
Monica Sharman says
Megan, anything plugged by you is worth a peek. 🙂
Will Willingham says
I find it really interesting, this idea that you don’t need everyone to pay attention to you, but that you need to know and pay attention to the ones who do, which should ultimately reap big rewards for both parties.
kathleen rooney says
Glynn, great point about Oprah’s ability to break walls–the wall between performer and audience, between books and TV, between “high” and “low” culture. Her personal accessibility as well as her lower-case-c catholic taste were two of the big factors that drew me to want to study the club.
And Megan, I still need to read WILD, but I’m really looking forward to it.
Tania Runyan says
Kathleen, I am so excited to have your post on Tweetspeak! I still remember Oprah’s first season. I was 14 and just mesmerized by her show–nothing like it and been done, no one like her had spoken so sincerely. And Megan, I want to check out that book!
Monica Sharman says
I’m attracted by this “convergence theory” and how new and old shape one another. It takes a healthy, external humility of sorts to recognize the value of learning from the old while having the creativity to move into something new.
Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing here!
kathleen rooney says
Monica, if you want to read more, definitely check out Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins: http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookId=9874