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Oprah on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sci-fi debut: ‘One of the best books I’ve ever read’

By Caitlin Welsh

It’s OK if you missed this in the flood of Apple TV+ original series announcements: Oprah’s Book Club is being reborn on the platform, no doubt bringing with it a new list of culture things you need to catch up on because everybody else is talking about them.

The benevolent multimedia mogul’s lit picks are famously powerful, but the Club itself has been a bit intermittent, with only 10 books selected overall since its 2012 relaunch on her own channel, OWN. The last was Michelle Obama’s blockbuster memoir Becoming in November 2018.

Her latest fave likely wouldn’t have needed her stamp of approval to be a big damn deal, but it sure can’t hurt. 

The Water Dancer is the first novel from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who’s already an icon (more on that in a moment). It’s a sci-fi fantasy story about Hiram Walker, a man born into slavery on a Virginia plantation, who discovers he has a power called Conduction that allows him to manipulate time and space; his journey takes him out of his life as one of the “Tasked” and into the world of abolitionists and resistance fighters. (It’s out Sept. 24, but an excerpt from it appeared in the New Yorker in June.)

This is not just any fiction debut — this is a writer who topped bestseller lists with an unflinching essay collection on race, then turned around and helped to create the Black Panther MCU audiences know and love, writing the reinvigorated comic for Marvel with a level of gravitas and guts that heavily influenced Ryan Coogler’s Oscar-nominated film. 

In other words, he has the range. 

But don’t take our word for it — listen to Oprah, who hands out compliments for The Water Dancer like they’re free cars.

“It is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life, right up there in the Top 5,” she told her BFF Gayle King, on the latter’s CBS show This Morning on Monday. 

“I was enthralled, I was devastated. I felt hope, I felt gratitude, I felt joy — I mean, it’s the range of emotions,” she said. “That’s why I think it has everything that a novel is supposed to.”

And if you were wondering how being tapped for the world’ biggest book club goes down on the author side, Coates can tell you. 

“I got some heads up,” he said on This Morning. “I got this text that said, ‘There’s a call coming at 10 a.m. this morning. You have to be available for this call.’”

And yes, Coates and Oprah are going to have a chat about it — it’ll be the debut of her Book Club show on Apple TV+ on November 1. 

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