Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Club: Late afternoon coffee with Oprah

14 x 14'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 
2011, painting #202

Where does inspiration comes from? For me it's often a sequence of events that ignites the idea. This past spring, I watched the last 30 episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show. After 25 years, she was saying goodbye to daytime television and moving on to her own network, appropriately named OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network). During this same period,  I was browsing through the used book section at a Canadian Dollar Store here in town, when I spotted no less than a dozen books that were chosen as past selections for her Book Club. What are the odds, since the book display case is only a two sided, four feet wide rack. When I got back home, it all came to me, an homage to the grand lady of television. The next day, I went back and bought seven of them, adding to the four I already had purchased in past years. When I really think about it, over all those years, even if I had only watched 50 shows per season, it would amount to 1250 episodes.......1250 hours in front of the tube.  

She started her book club in September of 1996. The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard was chosen as the first selection. Viewers were invited to read the book and the author was often present for an audience discussion at the conclusion. During the fifteen years, 67 books were introduced to her viewers. Because of the book club's wide popularity, many obscure titles have become very popular bestsellers. Several novels have sold in excess of one million copies, this occurrence is widely known as the Oprah Effect. It is estimated that the sales of the ''Oprah Book Club'' editions has sold in excess of 55 million copies. The top five with sales figures as of May 2011 are:
  1. Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, 3,370,000 copies
  2. James Frey, A million little Pieces- 2,695,500 copies
  3. Elie Wiesel, Night- 2,021,000 copies
  4. Cormac McCartney, The Road- 1,385,000 copies (after the book was selected, it was awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2007)  
  5. Joyce Carol Oates, We were the Mulvaneys, 1,348,000 copies

Many of the titles would later be made into film, such as The Deep End of the Ocean, The Reader, The Pilot's Wife, White OleanderHouse of Sand and  FogA Map of the World, the Road and Love in a Time of Cholera.

Around 1996, was also the period when she started to enlighten people by having spiritual authors with their words of wisdom. This was the time when I really started to tune in, and had my own spiritual awakening while reading Celestine Prophecies by James Redfield.  Many people viewed this as a menace to established religions vs church free spirituality. I view them as two separate entities, which I won't go into details, but both are connected to God or a ''higher being''. She would emerged as a spiritual leader in the process, which continues on her own network with ''Oprah's Lifeclass''.  In fact, the only book that I have read from the Book Club selections is A New Earth by  Eckhart Tolle, which is my all-time favorite spiritual book. However, I have read many of the other books that were introduced on air during these spiritual classes from authors like Gary Zukav, Sarah Ban Breathnach, Shirley McClaine, Dannion Brinkley, James Van Praagh, Carolyn Myss, Rhonda Byrne, Wayne  Dwyer, Richard Carlson, Betty J. Eadie and several others. These are the authors that bring enlightenment with what Oprah calls ''A-ha moments''.

For this painting, I went for the visuals. In this lot of seven books are no less than three Nobel Prize Award Winners. Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for literature and Eli Wiesel for Peace. The titles are as follows (clockwise)-
1- One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (featuring a painting by Cathleen Toelke)
2- Stones from the River - Ursula Hegi (featuring a painting by Albrecht Durer)
3- Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
4- The Bluest Eyes - Toni Morrison
5- Night - Eli Wiesel
6- A New Earth- Awakening to your Life's Purpose - Eckhart Tolle
7- Love in a time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

The Toni Morrison books are kind of hidden, but they are at the base level and they anchor the composition, plus she is one of Oprah's favorite person. I chose Love in a time of Cholera for a few reasons. It really complimented the color scheme of the cup and saucer. This Royal Albert demi-tasse with floral motif is called Camelot. It once belonged to my wife Suzanne's grandmother. When she died, Suzanne's mother Viola inherited the heirloom and displayed it in a curio wall cabinet for many years. Viola passed away, 6 years ago, she was an avid fan of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

In related stories, I've been sponsoring a boy from Haiti for three years now, specifically with money I earn from selling art.  I only get a letter from Wilky about once a year. The second letter I ever received was on January 12, 2010. It came with an updated photo of him. That evening as I was about to put his photo in a picture frame, I switched on the television as they were announcing and covering the devastation from earth quake that had just hit Haiti. The fact that I was holding his photo, also shook me. Fortunately for him, he does not live near Port-au-Prince and their area suffered minimal damage. On the same day I purchased the lot of seven books which including Love is a Time of Cholera, I was to receive the only letter from him this year. That day I read that his family had been afflicted during the recent cholera outbreak. He became gravely ill and one of his brothers almost died.

This past spring our 16 year old son was hospitalized for the first time in his life with viral infection that compromised his immune system. During this time he was reading Night by Eli Weisel for a book report in his English studies class. One morning as he had a fever of 104 F, and felt too weak to read, I sat at his bedside and read out loud a few chapters of the author's personal heartbreaking account of family rupture in concentration camps during WW2. 

I'm planning to do a complimentary Oprah Book Club piece next year taking a slightly different approach.  

To acquire this painting, please contact the 
Fog Forest Gallery 
14 Bridge Street, Sackville, NB. Canada
(506) 536-9000 or