Oprah: Nancy Kaszerman/Zuma Press/Newscom
April 08, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

COVER TO COVER Those sounds you hear of wailing and gnashing teeth and rending clothes are coming from the publishing industry, as its biggest booster, Oprah Winfrey, announces she’s shutting down her Book Club. ”It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share,” she said Friday in a statement. ”I will continue featuring books on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation.”

Since no one buys the explanation that Oprah can’t find 12 or so worthwhile books among the tens of thousands published each year, why now? True, Oprah’s Book Club has been slowing down for some time; in its six years, it’s averaged about eight books a year, but Winfrey presented only six books in 2001 and one so far in 2002. Her influence seems to be waning as well; a mention by Winfrey once meant additional sales of up to 1.2 million copies of a book, but now, it musters only an extra 600,000. Still, that’s not chopped liver. Maybe she’s just tired of dealing with cranky and ungrateful authors like Jonathan Franzen, who expressed misgivings about Winfrey and her soccer-mom audience after she picked his ”The Corrections” last fall. Or maybe she’s just slowing down in general; she’s announced that she’s going to pull the plug on her show in four years, and she seems to be devoting more time to her magazine, O.

This weekend, however, she canceled a trip to South Africa to promote the launch of that country’s edition of O. She’d visited the country twice before, and it is to be the site of the first edition of O outside the U.S. ”My instinct says things aren’t right in parts of the world,” she told South Africa’s Sunday Times. Asked which parts she meant, she said, ”All parts — and to get from my part to your part, I’d have to travel over other parts.” The announcement comes on the heels of Winfrey’s declining an invitation to travel on a White House-sponsored tour of schools in Afghanistan, though she cited previous fundraising commitments, not safety, as her reason for passing on that trip….

In what is believed to be a record payday for a work of literary fiction, ”Cold Mountain” author Charles Frazier will take home $11 million for his next novel. After a very public bidding war last week, Random House secured publication rights for $8 million, while Scott Rudin, the movie producer who specializes in literary adaptations (”Angela’s Ashes,” ”The Corrections”), bought the film rights for $3 million. That’s a lot, especially for a yet-unwritten book that exists now only as a one-page proposal. But Frazier’s Civil War-set ”Mountain” was a bestseller, and it’ll be made into a movie this summer by director Anthony Minghella (”The English Patient”) that will star Nicole Kidman, , and Jude Law. Frazier found the raw material for the new book while researching the period for ”Mountain.” It’ll be based on the true story of Will Thomas, a white man raised by Cherokee Indians who became the only white Cherokee chief and who led a band of Cherokee soldiers on the Confederate side during the Civil War. Frazier expects to publish the book in 2005.

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