An Instant Classic: Oprah's Private Library
Photo: Matthew Rolston
Where does the woman who got America reading curl up with a good novel? Welcome to the book-filled haven where no one ever says, "Shhhh!"Oprah sits on a comfortable sofa beneath her bookshelves, her golden retriever Luke snoozing companionably beside her. Yes, the library off the front hall of her Santa Barbara home is a calm and restful room—decorated with soft, celadon-green walls, sage-colored chairs, fresh flowers, and elegantly lit paintings. But it's also the kind of place where a beloved dog is allowed to hop up onto the furniture.
Likewise, the rows of first editions that cover the wall constitute a smashing collection, to be sure. But, Oprah explains, "I'm not a book snob. First editions are great, but so are all books. If you're starting your own library, all that matters is that you start with what you love."
For her, this has meant acquiring the titles that enable her to realize a long-held and very personal desire: "I have always wanted to be surrounded by black authors," she says. "Now I have all of Langston Hughes, all of Paul Laurence Dunbar; Zora Neale Hurston—all of her writing."
Just saying their names stirs Oprah. She stands up and clasps her hands behind her back. Reciting Dunbar's lines, her voice sounds younger, almost as if she were a schoolgirl:
Come to yo' pappy an' set on his knee."
When she finishes, Oprah settles back into the sofa. "Even as a kid," she explains, "my memories are of books taking me out of myself." Hoping to give other children a similar experience, she's donated 6,000 books to juvenile-justice facilities and other youth-outreach organizations through a partnership between her Angel Network and the American Library Association. Oprah has also shared more than 60 reading recommendations through her nearly 2-million-member book club. So although this room is devoted to storing and displaying her collection, no place, really, can physically contain all the titles that have meant something to this book lover. And this room doesn't. Just outside the library, there's a stereo closet in which books outnumber CDs. An adjoining hallway is lined with two additional bookcases. Even the nearby powder room features floor-to-ceiling built-ins, stocked with still more volumes.
On the shelves directly above the sofa, however, Oprah has placed first editions of Pulitzer Prize winners, including 1948's Tales of the South Pacific, by James A. Michener, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, awarded the prize in 2008. Not to mention Harper Lee's 1960 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which Oprah describes as her favorite novel of all time.