Oprah Winfrey Selects The Underground Railroad as Her Next Book Club Pick

Colson Whitehead’s new novel was moved up to time with the pick

Speaking with the Associated Press in a recent phone interview, Oprah Winfrey lavished praise on Colson Whitehead’s immensely anticipated The Underground Railroad:

“I was blown away by it… ‘Blown away’ is an often-used expression, but with this book it was to the point of sometimes putting it down and saying, ‘I can’t read anymore. I don’t want to turn the page. I want to know what happens, but I don’t want to know what happens.’”

Oprah was in fact so floored by the power of the novel, that she selected it as the latest inclusion for her Book Club 2.0, making it only the fifth selection since 2.0 launched in 2012 following the end of her talk show.

Colson Whitehead speaking at an event

This announcement has, with immediate effect, altered the sales-trajectory of Whitehead’s novel: Doubleday, the book’s publisher, moved up the release of the novel from September 13th to today! According to the imprint’s twitter account, they’re fairly and rightfully happy, to say the least:

“Man, we love you guys. The Underground Railroad is now trending on Twitter and we’re just over here giddy that the book is finally here!”

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Doubleday, with news of Oprah’s announcement, has also increased the first printing from 75,000 to a whopping 200,000. Though Oprah has acknowledged diminished subsequent sales Club picks since the days of her TV show, today’s news should leave no doubt that the Oprah Effect can still take root. As she says, “I’m an exposure agent, trying to get the word out.”

In addition to what will surely prove to be wide popular acclaim, the book has also captured some very high critical marks out of the gate. Michiko Kakutani — a seemingly inexhaustible and often times notably harsh critic — penned a beautiful review of the book for The New York Times, introducing it as:

a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery… One of the remarkable things about this novel is how Mr. Whitehead found an elastic voice that accommodates both brute realism and fable-like allegory…a voice that enables him to convey the historical horrors of slavery with raw, shocking power.

The novel follows Cora, a slave fleeing a Georgia plantation where she was born and a plantation from which her own mother had already escaped. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of the novel pre-publication is the book’s transformation of “the underground railroad”, from a moniker for the network of activists who helped slaves escape the South, to a literalized physical locomotive.

I think it is safe to say that Oprah has selected one of the best, if not one of the most important, books of this year to add to her well-respected Book Club List.

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