Oprah Winfrey won’t officially announce her 64th book club selection until Sept. 17, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be Conversations With Myself, a memoir of Nobel winner Nelson Mandela assembled from journals, diaries, letters, and records of private conversations that he kept over the course of his storied life as an activist turned prisoner turned president of South Africa. A rep for the book had no comment, but here’s my thinking:
The subject matter seems very Oprah-friendly. The talk-show giant has a long-standing connection to Africa, where she’s built several schools for girls. And she’s selected several African-themed books for her club before, including Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country and Uwem Akpan’s story collection Say You’re One of Them (her 2009 selection).
It’s a memoir by an historical figure, with a presidential imprimatur to boot. We know that Oprah has a thing for memoirs by famous people recounting historical events, from Elie Weisel’s Night to Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man. (Best not to mention her brief, much-regretted dalliance with a memoir by a regular joe named James Frey.) Mandela’s book already boasts a foreword by Barack Obama, which may make an Oprah endorsement seem like just so much frosting on the best-seller cake.
The timing and the price are right. Conversations is due to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on Oct. 11, just a few weeks after the book club announcement, so mass-shipping the title a week or two early wouldn’t be a logistical challenge. Plus, the book retails for $28 — and we already know from booksellers that the new pick is a $28 book from FSG parent Macmillan (which suggests that it’s a new release that’s not a title already available in paperback).
After scouring online book retailers, I turned up roughly a dozen titles from Macmillan imprints such as Henry Holt and Farrar, Straus and Giroux that retail at that price. (Another Macmillan imprint, St. Martin’s, generally doesn’t price books at even dollar amounts.) One of FSG’s $28 books, as other commentators have noted, is Jonathan Franzen’s much-ballyhooed novel Freedom. But after Winfrey’s fallout with the author over The Corrections nine years ago, the chance of her choosing Freedom seems about as likely as Nicholas Sparks winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Other $28 Macmillan titles include: Wait for Me!, a memoir by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire; Joan Biskupic’s American Original, a biography of Antonin Scalia; Mark Wyman’s Hoboes; James Schuyler’s poetry collection Other Flowers; and Michael Caine’s memoir The Elephant of Hollywood.
I’m sticking with my guess: This fall, a lot of us will be reading a lot about the anti-apartheid movement, the prison on Robben Island, and the struggle for true democracy in South Africa.