In one of the strangest turns in the recent history of book publishing, Oprah Winfrey has revoked an invitation to an author to appear on her show. The talk-show host decided it would be best that Jonathan Franzen, author of the National Book Award—nominated The Corrections (FSG) and one of the most literary authors ever selected for her book club, not participate in a taped dinner with Oprah and selected audience members after he made comments expressing his ambivalence toward aspects of the club. There will also be no show discussing his work.
"Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection," said Winfrey. "It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict. We have decided to skip the dinner and we're moving on to the next book." No date had been set for the program.
The discomfort Winfrey referred to came across in several Franzen interviews. The Corrections author admitted to the Oregonian that he had originally considered declining Oprah's offer. "I see this as my book, my creation, and I didn't want that logo of corporate ownership on it," referring to the "O" on the cover that labeled it an Oprah pick. To NPR's Terry Gross, Franzen said that he heard "more than one reader in signing lines in bookstores say, 'You know, if I hadn't heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick.' " Franzen added, "I'm a little confused about the whole thing right now."
He also was quoted in the Oregonian as saying that he and FSG feel the selection "does as much for her as it does for us" and insinuated that Oprah might not help sales that much. "Well, it was already on the bestseller list and the reviews were pretty much all in," Franzen told the newspaper. (He did conclude that the selection "means a lot more money for me and my publisher.")
Franzen later apologized for the comments, saying, "I'm a writer, not a spokesperson," and adding, "I'm sorry if, because of my inexperience, I expressed myself poorly or unwisely."
What remains unclear is the effect on sales. FSG, not unexpectedly, said it wasn't worried. "Of course we're disappointed, but it's not the end of the world for the book," said FSG publicity director Jeff Seroy. "There's a full head of steam for it." But concerns remained about the 800,000 copies, most of which are tagged with the Oprah identifier on the cover. Some speculated that Oprah viewers might even return their copies. FSG said it looks forward to selling many copies in advance of the National Book Awards, set for November 14 in Manhattan.