Oprah to pick Franzen's "Freedom" for book club

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American author Jonathan Franzen’s best-selling new book “Freedom” is expected to be influential talk show queen Oprah Winfrey’s new book club pick, publishing industry sources said on Thursday.

Winfrey will make an official announcement on her TV show on Friday, marking her first book club choice this year. Many of her past 63 selections, which range from classics like John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” to inspirational works like “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, have become big-sellers.

Dennis Johnson, founder of independent Melville House Publishing, reported on his blog earlier this week that Franzen’s new novel, about a depressive mid-western family, would be chosen.

Johnson posted a photograph on his blog on Wednesday showing the cover of “Freedom” with Winfrey’s blue book club sticker, ready to hit book stores.

Franzen’s publishers and Winfrey’s production company declined to confirm the reports ahead of Friday’s TV show.

Franzen, 51, has become a literary darling in the United States. The release of “Freedom” last month appeared on the cover of Time Magazine under the title, “Great American Novelist.”

The book shot straight to No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction list. The newspaper said in its review of the book, which tells the story of liberal middle class American family, that Franzen had written his “most deeply felt novel yet.”

The choice of Franzen would mark a reconciliation between the author and Winfrey, who is ending her popular TV show in 2011.

Winfrey in 2001 rescinded an invitation to the writer to talk on her show about his last book “The Corrections” after he expressed reservations about some of her “schmaltzy” choices.

“She’s wanting to go out looking like she’s all powerful and he had nothing to lose, except to lose a little face, which didn’t seem to bother him,” Johnson told Reuters on Thursday.

Franzen told the Star-Tribune newspaper in August he would be happy if Winfrey picked his new novel.

“We’ll all be tuning in to see their great reconciliation. She is still the single biggest mover of books and even more powerful now that she picks them so rarely,” said Daily Beast editor Lucas Wittmann.

W.W.Norton & Company editor Robert Weil noted Winfrey’s “huge pull” with audiences, especially with women.

“She can take books in commercial ways in literature that no one else can quite do,” he said. “It could also reflect in ten years an acceptance of Oprah in high literary circles.”

Barnes & Noble booksellers, who declined to comment on whether Franzen had been chosen, said Winfrey single-handedly acted as a reputable broad platform in spreading the word on books and was “a tremendous factor in sales,” according to Patricia Bostelman, VP of marketing for Barnes & Noble.

Book sales have been going through a tumultuous period as sales have fallen and publishers have struggled to make large profits from e-books.

“The book industry is in a very different position than in 1996 when she first launched the book club,” said Bostelman.

Others said while it would boost sales, Franzen’s book was already selling well and noted Winfrey’s has reduced her focus on books in the past several years.

“This is a book that is locked in already as a monster seller,” Johnson said.

Editing by Jill Serjeant