The Literator


IN a recent speech, Lisa Jardine, professor and all-purpose talking head, noted that Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, launched on her US networked television show last autumn, is turning Americans on to all manner of books they would never otherwise have considered reading. Some 915,000 copies of Jacquelyn Mitchard's debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean have been bought, in hardback, since the chat show queen featured it on her show, the launch title for her Club. Less than a month after it was released, the paperback edition has sold 1.7 million copies (the UK paperback is due in August).

Since Mitchard had no track record, readers - or viewers - would come to her with no preconceptions. Not so with the likes of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, well-established "literary" names and, therefore, perceived as "difficult". But because Oprah has now recommended them, they have had the courage to venture into new territory and have been rewarded.

The success of the Club has led the Starbucks coffee-shop chain to sell Oprah's book choice in all but the smallest of its America-wide outlets. The books will not be discounted and profits will go to charity, part of an agreement reached recently with Winfrey.

Clearly, both the Book Club itself and the Starbucks alliance will help expand the market for books, reaching people who might be too intimidated to venture into a bookshop. So wouldn't it be nice if a celebrity chat- show host could launch a similar initiative in Britain and have us all tripping in to Pret-a-Manger for a coffee and egg mayonnaise to go plus the new E Annie Proulx?

NICHOLAS EVANS, the man who set a new record with advances for his first novel, The Horse Whisperer, has proved his worth. His British publishers, Transworld, have just presented him with an award to mark sales of one million copies. It is the first time since 1985 and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole that a first novel has sold a million - and that's just in the UK. Worldwide sales top seven million and that's before the release of the film, on which Robert Redford is currently at work.

ART LOVERS - fancy having an entire reference library at your fingertips? Well, for a mere pounds 4,900 you can. Order the 34-volume Macmillan Dictionary of Art before the end of July and you can save pounds 850 on the set, which normally retails at pounds 5,750. Years in the making - the project was launched by the late Harold Macmillan- the Dictionary contains more than 20,000 biographical entries, 41,000 alphabetically arranged articles and 15,000 illustrations and covers every form of visual art, from the Stone Age to the latest multimedia installation, from AAA (Allied Artists' Association) to Zygouries (a Bronze Age site in Greece). A steal - and such a wonderful talking point on your bookshelf, which is presumably why Jeffrey Archer owns one. Seriously, more information is available on

I WROTE last week about Michael Walsh's sequel to Casablanca. Now comes news of Dorian, the sequel to Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In it, "Gray meets Oscar Wilde while living in Paris with Lord Henry Wotton after Wilde's release from prison in 1897. Gray emerges as a master of the occult arts. He finally leaves France for Venice after the dark secrets of his life are discovered by the androgynous Nadja." The author is Jeremy Reed, whose published oeuvre includes Lipstick, Sex and Poetry: An Autobiographical Exploration of Poetry of Sexuality, and Delirium: An Interpretation of Arthur Rimbaud, and his latest opus comes with an endorsement from JG Ballard. Dorian, he enthuses, is "a luscious greenhouse filled with the exotic flora of our most original poet."

AND another update: travellers on the London Underground will soon be able to practise their French as they remain stuck in a tunnel on the Central Line or wherever. For Poems on the Underground, in acknowledgement of our renewed desire to be at the heart of Europe, is to feature poems in parallel French and English texts. The first set, chosen by Judith Chernaik, Gerard Benson and Cicely Herbert, feature "Rondel" by Charles d'Orlean, "Le Faune" by Verlaine, lines from Pope's "Essay on Man", John Masefield's "Cargoes", Peter Porter's "Waiting for the rain in Devon" and "Wedding" by Alice Oswald. They, too, will be available on the Internet, providing "a sea of poetic calm for frantic surfers all over the world". Which is more than can be said for London Underground.

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