By Elisabeth Egan
OPRAH’S FAVORITE On Aug. 24, clad in beige athleisure wear and brandishing an iPad, Oprah announced her latest book club selection: “The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a poet whose first work of fiction clocks in at 816 pages. (On Instagram, she refers to it as “my Big Chubby Baby of a novel.”) One would be hard-pressed to locate a review that doesn’t describe this multigenerational epic, exploring Black history and family legacy through a young woman’s eyes, as “sprawling” or “sweeping.” On Page 9 of this issue, our reviewer writes, “‘The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois’ is quite simply the best book that I have read in a very, very long time.” It enters the hardcover fiction list at No. 4, almost 25 years to the day after Oprah announced her very first book club pick: Jacqueline Mitchard’s “The Deep End of the Ocean,” another debut novel that went on to be a best seller (for 16 months). In 1996, when Oprah announced the choice on her talk show, she said: “I want to get the whole country reading again. Those of you who haven’t been reading, I think books are important!” She explained how the club would work: Readers who wanted to have dinner with Mitchard could send a letter to a Chicago P.O. box or “write us at America Online, those of us who know how to do that.” The studio audience smiled politely and clapped.
INVENTION INTERVENTION Over on the hardcover nonfiction list, we have another newbie: “Dopamine Nation,” by Anna Lembke, appearing at No. 6. The book is — you may want to read on before refreshing Twitter — about finding balance in an age of obsessive indulgence. Lembke, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction, begins with an anecdote about a patient who built a “masturbation machine” using a record player, a metal rod and a soft cloth. He described how he became addicted to this contraption, attaching himself to it for several hours a day to the detriment of relationships and work. “Perhaps you are repulsed by Jacob’s masturbation machine, as I was when I first heard about it,” Lembke writes, acknowledging that readers may view his habit as an “extreme perversion,” with no relevance to their own lives. “But if we do that, you and I, we miss an opportunity to appreciate something crucial about the way we live now.” She goes on to explore the dichotomy between seeking a readily accessible hit of dopamine — from our phones, gambling or a bag of Fritos — and maintaining healthy, productive, stable lives.
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