Oprah picks Franzen's novel "Freedom" for book club

CHICAGO Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:27pm EDT

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey gives a speech during a dinner held by the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid team at a hotel in Copenhagen, September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey gives a speech during a dinner held by the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid team at a hotel in Copenhagen, September 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Dunham/Pool

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Television talk show queen Oprah Winfrey chose Jonathan Franzen's best-selling novel "Freedom" for her book club on Friday, calling the book "a masterpiece" and setting aside a previous contretemps with the author.

"I am really betting that 'Freedom,' by Jonathan Franzen, will end up being for you, as it is for me, one of the best novels you have ever read," Winfrey said as her staff handed out copies to her studio audience in Chicago.

"This book is a masterpiece spanning three decades," Winfrey said of the 64th selection on her syndicated show, which is in its 25th and final season and is viewed by millions in 145 countries.

"It is an epic family saga. It has everything. It has sex and love, even rock and roll, and everything you should want in a book," Winfrey said.

In 2001, Winfrey chose Franzen's National Book Award winner "The Corrections," but the novelist snubbed her by calling her book club picks "schmaltzy, one-dimensional" and worried that her recommendation might discourage his male readers.

Winfrey canceled Franzen's appearance on her show, saying he was apparently "uncomfortable" with being selected.

The book went on to become a big seller, perhaps aided by the additional media attention.

This time, Winfrey said she sent Franzen a note asking for his permission to feature his latest novel "because we have a little history."

Franzen has said in interviews he would be happy if Winfrey chose his novel.

Since launching her book club in 1996 to promote reading, Winfrey's choices have ranged from high-brow fiction and popular autobiographies to new releases and classics of literature. Her picks invariably vault the books to the top of best-seller lists.

But a 2005 pick, James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," angered Winfrey after the author admitted to fabricating parts of the memoir. She subsequently excoriated Frey in a televised interview.

"Freedom" is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is part of Germany's Georg von Holtzbrinck Group.

Franzen, 51, released "Freedom" last month and it shot straight to No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction list. The newspaper's review said the story of a liberal middle-class American family was Franzen's "most deeply felt novel yet."

Past picks by Winfrey included "Say You're One Of Them" by Uwem Akpan, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski, "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle, "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy and "Night" by Elie Wiesel.

Winfrey obtained a rare interview with McCarthy and has entertained other authors, posted excerpts from their books on her web site, and suggested topics for book club discussions.

Winfrey insisted the coming end of her show does not mean her book club will expire, saying she planned to continue making book recommendations when her Oprah Winfrey Network begins airing on cable television next year.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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