Oprah Winfrey's book club doesn't seem to have as much power has it did when her syndicated show reigned over talk TV. But perhaps that's changing a bit.
On Tuesday she announced her new pick, Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad." The novel was originally scheduled to come out in September. But Doubleday moved its publication date up to coincide with Oprah's announcement. It also more than doubled the first printing to 200,000 copies. (That printing, though, is far less than the printings for the original Oprah club. Those printings ranged up to about 1 million copies.)
So "The Underground Railroad" went on sale today. In the meantime, that gives St. Louis readers extra time to read it before Whitehead speaks about his book Sept. 14 at the St. Louis County Library on South Lindbergh Boulevard.
The novel is about slavery and imagines the historic system of safe houses and escape routes as an actual underground train. Here is the publisher's description of the plot:
"Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
"In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom."
Winfrey's website, Oprah.com, will include a reading guide and Winfrey's comments, and "Underground Railroad" will be featured on Goodreads (Goodreads.com/OprahsBookClub).
On Tuesday, a banner featuring Oprah was at the top of Amazon.com, where the hardcover book shot to No. 4. in mid-afternoon. Winfrey revived her book club as Oprah's Book Club 2.0 on her OWN channel in 2012. Since then, book picks have been more sporadic than they were on her original show.
Coincidentally, an alternative history novel, "Underground Airlines" by Ben H. Winters, was published last month.