Last Friday, that eminent advocate of reading made the 22nd selection for her on-air book club -- and picked, for the first time, a foreign novel. We're talking Oprah Winfrey, of course, whose latest -- appropriately titled -- choice is The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway. Originally published by Pantheon in 1997, the novel was published as a Vintage trade paperback last August, with a first printing of 26,000. After eight trips back to press, The Reader has about 115,000 copies in print. According to Vintage publicity director Katy Barrett, "This has been a tremendous word-of-mouth book -- its sales have increased steadily every month. It's also hugely popular with book clubs." The publisher, she adds, will print about 600,000 additional copies to meet the Oprah demand. Hearing of Oprah's choice, Knopf associate publicity director Nicholas Latimer said, "That's terrific -- another win for The Little Book That Could."

For more than two years, the nation has been gripped by the mysterious Colorado death of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey. Nor, apparently, has the fascination waned, as evidenced in part by the debut of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenet and the City of Boulder in the #5 nonfiction position. Author Lawrence Schiller (whose American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense spent four weeks on our list in late 1996) is in the midst of an eight-city tour; last Saturday he participated in a town meeting at the Boulder Public Library with local media. He was the subject of a two-part Today feature, and has done interviews on Dateline, MSNBC, CNBC and a number of radio programs. Newsweek ran the first serialization, and the New York Times ran an article about the book's immense popularity in Denver and Boulder. Said J lle Delbourgo, HC associate publisher and editor-in-chief, "It's amazing to witness the public response -- the velocity of sales has been astounding." Because of the book's "explosive content," Delbourgo added, "We guarded it very closely until the last possible minute -- only four people were allowed to read it." After three printings, total copies are 177,000.

It was just over a year ago (Jan. 19, 1998) that James Van Praagh's first book, Talking to Heaven, debuted on our nonfiction list, where it remained for 21 weeks -- five of those in the #1 slot. After a 10,000-copy first printing, Talking went on to sell close to 600,000 copies in hardcover; Signet just released a mass market edition; after four printings it has 810,00 copies. Now Van Praagh's second book, Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death, might well duplicate the first book's success, as it debuts in the #12 nonfiction position. Highlights to date of the author's 10-city tour include a February 25 Roseanne appearance, during which Van Praagh talked to Nicole Simpson through her sister, Denise; as well as interviews on Today and Larry King Live. Slated for this month are Hard Copy, Maury Povich and The Howie Mandell Show. Dutton reports 300,000 copies in print following a February 15 on-sale date.AN 'INSTANCE' WINNER
According to his publisher, this gentleman "has elevated the literary thriller to new intellectual heights." The author in question is Oxford (England) journalist and art historian Iain Pears, whose An Instance of the Fingerpost has just been issued in mass market by Berkley. (The Riverhead hardcover, published in March, 1998, spent seven weeks on our fiction list-an impressive feat for such a weighty tome.) Though on its surface the novel, set in 1663, examines the suspicious death of a Fellow at Oxford's New College, Pears interweaves considerable historical lore along with portrayals of such intellects of the day as John Locke, Robert Boyle and Christopher Wren. With three trips back to press before today's pub date, total copies in print are up to 466,000.

With reporting by Dick Donahue.