Oprah embraces 'East of Eden'

Steinbeck to kick off revived book club

— Oprah Winfrey was sitting under an oak tree in California last summer, reading John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" and loving it, when she realized that just telling a few friends about it wouldn't do.

"I was literally halfway through 'East of Eden' and thought, 'Gee, I wish I had a book club again,"' Winfrey told The Associated Press Wednesday in a telephone interview from Chicago, shortly after announcing on her TV talk show that Steinbeck's novel was her first pick after a 14-month hiatus.

Winfrey had suspended her club in April 2002 because she didn't have enough time to keep up monthly selections. She revealed in February that she would be starting her picks again and focusing on older authors.

The Winfrey touch is apparently undiminished. By late Wednesday afternoon, "East of Eden" had jumped to No. 2 on Amazon.com, trailing only the new Harry Potter book. Steinbeck's publisher, Penguin Group USA, has ordered a new printing of 600,000 for a book that usually sells 40,000-50,000 copies a year.

Winfrey acknowledged that "East of Eden" was a long way from the typical "Oprah" pick. Since founding her club in 1996, she has often highlighted sympathetic women characters, choosing such books as Jacquelyn Mitchard's "Deep End of the Ocean" and Toni Morrison's "Sula."

But novels rarely come as manly as Steinbeck's epic, biblically influenced story about rival brothers. The main female character, Cathy, is a ruthless prostitute of whom Steinbeck writes, "I believe there are monsters born in the world."

Winfrey said she wanted to avoid the "self-imposed box" in which she found herself: the fewer expectations the better. She will not make monthly picks, but three to five choices a year. She will focus on authors of the past but doesn't rule out living ones. And after first wanting to call her revived club "Traveling With the Classics," she settled for "Oprah's Book Club" -- just as it was called before.

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