"Are you going to be on Oprah?"
This is the first thing friends and family will ask any soon-to-be-published author.
It's very sweet that our loved ones have so much faith in us. However, it's sort of like asking, "Are you going to win the lottery?"
Consider the numbers: Since 2002 Oprah has chosen anywhere from one to five books per year. Grand total so far for 2008: One book. Even in the earlier years of Oprah's Book Club, when Oprah would choose as many as eight or nine books per year, it was still a long shot. After all, there are 175,000 books published every year.
Clearly, having your book chosen by Oprah is the holy grail of publishing good fortune.The books Oprah chooses are instant #1 New York Times Bestsellers. But more important than the glory Oprah's Book Club bestows on authors is the service it does for readers, for Oprah has single-handedly done more to revitalize adults' interest in reading than just about anyone. For that we all owe her a debt of gratitude.
About a month ago, one of my readers, a lovely woman named Christina, gave me something more important to dream about than getting the call from Oprah. Christina got me thinking about Jane Austen getting the call from Oprah or, more precisely, an entire community of surrogates known as the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) getting the call from Oprah.
It just so happens that JASNA will be descending upon Oprah territory in October 2008 and would love nothing better than to bring Austen to Oprah's audience.
Why are the Janeites coming to Chicago? Every October, Jane Austen addicts convene in a different city for JASNA's Annual General Meeting. It's wall-to-wall, nonstop Austen: breakout sessions, plenary speakers, poster sessions, panels and performances, a Regency Emporium where Janeites can buy Austen-related books and other goodies (and this year, rent costumes), a banquet, and a Regency ball, complete with English country dance and a whole lot of us dressed in costume. In other words, if you're like me, you feel like you died and went to Austen heaven.
I can't think of an author more Oprah-worthy than Jane Austen. After all, Oprah has always been big on self-help and self-discovery, and in my opinion, one couldn't ask for a more comprehensive and entertaining set of self-help books than Jane Austen's six novels. Every time I read them I learn something new about myself, including discovering more ways to "make sport for my neighbors, and laugh at them in my turn." After all, it is Austen's sense of humor, coupled with her keen observation of human nature, that make her stories timeless.
Here is what Christina envisions for a special Oprah show (fears, actually, because sadly Christina cannot afford the trip to Chicago, what with gas prices being what they are, and therefore she'd miss out on being in the studio audience):
"Oprah will do a special show that week just on the Jane Austen phenomenon and have an audience full of JASNA people and give out cars and iPods to everyone—and first editions of P&P to a special audience member with the winning ticket under her seat—and have Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen [the two Mr. Darcys from the last two film versions of Pride and Prejudice] and Rupert Penry-Jones [Captain Wentworth from the latest Persuasion movie] as surprise guests—and then end the show by sending everyone to England for a Jane Austen tour!
Alas, I will bitterly watch it all on TV, green with Caroline Bingleyesque envy!"
Okay, maybe cars and first editions and transatlantic travel are a little excessive. But surely Oprah could give everyone in the audience the Penguin edition of the complete works. And the guest line-up is certainly do-able. In costume, of course.
I would suggest adding Jennifer Ehle and Keira Knightley as guests, so that the two Mr. Darcys can have their Elizabeth Bennets by their side. Hey, dueling Lizzie and Darcys! As for the JASNA folks bringing entertainment value to the mix, William Phillips, one of the coordinators of the JASNA AGM, spoke at last year's AGM, and he was brilliant--charming and funny and informative. And William is just one of the many bright and sparkling speakers and storytellers who will be at the AGM. Another thought: Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, would also be an excellent guest—brought down the house with her witty speech at the 2004 AGM.
As for me, I'll be happy to be in the audience and offer up all of my swag to the lovely Christina.
What a show. Oprah, we await your call.