Jennifer Nelson:Oprah’s back with a brand new invention

Apparently, the problem is two-fold: There aren’t enough quality new books and there aren’t enough women like Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey, who last week became the first black woman to make Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires, also announced last week she will revive her book club. The club went on hiatus 10 months ago after Oprah admitted to not having enough time to read the few good books she could find.

It seems, then, she has found a solution in her latest venture: A book club dedicated to the classics. Faulkner, Hemingway, Shakespeare – these are the authors Oprah has promised to push.

Talk-show host, magazine publisher, professional book pusher. It seems there is nothing the woman can’t do.

Upon hearing the news, one friend of mine (a graduate student in English, no less) tossed up his hands and exclaimed, “I’m out.”

I had to laugh at his feigned frustration. After all, he and I have been reading the classics for some time. And although I do love Faulkner and Hemingway, and although I wouldn’t say I hate Shakespeare, I shudder to think of the myriad ways publishers will try to make these books accessible and understandable to the masses.

Made-for-TV films (based on the novel, this month’s selection in Oprah’s “Traveling with the Classics”).

Shakespeare for Dummies.

Perhaps they’ll set up displays at the corner Starbucks (not a bad idea. Remember: You read it here first.)

Seriously, though. While I’m thrilled Oprah is bringing back her book club – a club I didn’t even follow, but a club that got millions of people reading – I am haunted by the images it conjures. I’m also troubled by her rejection of modern fiction.

Couldn’t she cover both? Can’t she do everything? And if not, who can?

Feeding off the success of Oprah’s original book club, other television personalities joined the book business. Katie Couric does it. So does Kelly Ripa, Regis’ snappy little sidekick.

But, try as they might, Katie and Kelly are not Oprah. They lack the selling power. And the taste. Ripa, after all, pushes smut and brags about it.

I was telling a professor recently about a friend of mine. Smart girl. She graduated at the top of her class and was planning to go to medical school before she got the travel bug. She reads all the time. But never literature. Never anything that seems worth reading.

I said to my professor, “At least she’s reading, though. That’s the important thing.”

He replied, “No, it’s important for children to read. It’s important for adults to read the good stuff.”

I would argue the good stuff comes in many forms. I fear that if Oprah doesn’t give a book her seal of approval, many people will look past it, which would be a shame.