Oprah Winfrey is known for her influential accomplishments across various realms but is recognized by many, in part, for her iconic Oprah’s Book Club, where she highlights titles that speak to her in some way. Having done so since 1996, there are plenty of great books to choose from, though Oprah’s list takes an approach unlike many others—rather than choosing a new title each month, or on a similarly regular basis, she instead showcases new books only as they appeal to her. The 2021 Oprah book club list, for instance, includes seven titles in all. Rather than lacking in options, the exclusivity of this book club ensures that any and all of these titles are of the greatest possible quality.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
In addition to its place as an Oprah’s Book Club pick, this New York Times bestseller has been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. Richard Powers’ Bewilderment tells the story of a father, astrobiologist Theo Byrne, raising his son, Robin, after his wife’s death. As Oprah herself explains, ”Richard Powers is one of our country’s greatest living writers. He composes some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. I’m in awe of his talent.”
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Another New York Times bestseller, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers‘ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois has also been longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction and the Aspen Words Literary Prize, shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, among other accolades. Written by a prolific poet, this debut novel tells the story of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a Black woman coming to terms with both her identity and her ancestral legacy.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
A selection from President Obama’s summer reading list, winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and holder of other honors including its place in Oprah’s own book club, Nathan Harris’ The Sweetness of Water follows brothers Prentiss and Landry as they work on the Walker Family’s homestead in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. Meanwhile, a forbidden love story between two Confederate soldiers comes to light, leading to further chaos. Another remarkable debut, this book club selection was yet another immediate bestseller.
The Gilead Novels by Marilynne Robinson
For her first selections of the year, Oprah showcased a quartet of novels by Marilynne Robinson: 2004’s Gilead, 2008’s Home, 2014’s Lila, and 2020’s Jack. This series, described as “is an intergenerational story about faith, race, and love,” introduces readers to the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa, and the dichotomies of American life. In addition to its place on Oprah’s book club list, the Gilead novels have amassed a Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a variety of other accolades between them since the first book‘s publication in 2004, and it has been highlighted in publications from the New York Times to the Washington Post.
While there may only be seven individual titles on Oprah’s 2021 book list, these selections are undeniably powerful reads. Of course, any reader who’s made their way through each of these has plenty more to choose from, with decades of Oprah’s Book Club highlights to peruse, as well as Oprah’s own books and others she’s mentioned in interviews and articles. These books, and those that join them on Oprah’s list, tackle issues of race, gender, family, legacy, and more—all of which are as true today as they are for characters like the post-Civil War brothers in The Sweetness of Water. While we’re still grappling with questions like these today, these books may help us understand just what’s at stake.