Algonquin Talks with Sara Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine

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How long have you been at O: The Oprah Magazine? Oprah and you are totally best buds now, right?
I started in September ’09, so it’s been a little over a year. Oprah and I are [she holds up two fingers, not too close together] like THIS.

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I really admire how you transformed Publishers Weekly. Can you tell us about your tenure there? What do you feel you added to the magazine?
I was at PW for four years and loved every minute of it. It was the first time I’d been in a position to work on a whole magazine, to reshape it, re-”brand” it, etc. I added Signature Reviews to the Review section, I wrote a weekly column that I’m told was widely read and discussed, and I did a lot of traveling to Europe and Asia and the Middle East to attend book fairs and try to make PW more global. I think I succeeded in making this quiet little magazine talked about, important again.

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You also wrote for the Daily Beast, and before PW you were at the New York Post covering the publishing beat, and then before that you were at Glamour. Where else have you worked?
I can’t seem to hold a job! I’ve worked at many, many magazines — SELF, Glamour, 7 Days — and newspapers and Web sites.  I think I really “broke through” as a book business editor at the now defunct Inside.com, which led pretty directly to my job at the New York Post, my column at the New York Observer, and PW.

How did you get into books journalism?
Just fell into it, really. I read a lot and knew a lot of magazine editors, so I began pitching myself as a reviewer to supplement my work as a freelance writing generalist.

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You’re the author of So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading. Did you really read all of those books or did you use CliffsNotes for some of them?
Hey!  I spent many sleepless nights reading those books, and I have the circles under my eyes to prove it.

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Are you worried about the future of book review coverage?
Yes. And no. I think traditional book review coverage is under siege — from blogs and websites, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I do think the trend is away from what we used to call “lit-crit” and toward a much more practical “Do I want to buy this book to read on vacation” form of reviewing. Personally, I think anything that gets people talking about books is great, so I tend to be optimistic about the burst of the web.

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How about e-books–do they signal the end of the world? Or at least the end of physical books?

I think there will always be physical books — and e-books. I think certain kinds of books are best read in e-form: books like travel books, cookbooks, “pulp” novels, romances. Books that you consume rather than lose yourself in are more likely to be e-books. Sometimes I say that e-books are the mass-market of this generation.

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Who are some of the famous people you’ve met and/or interviewed over the years?
Well, I don’t know. Famous to me and famous to the rest of the world are two different sets of people. I once said in an interview that I was more interested in what went on in Sonny Mehta’s head than George Clooney’s. I meant that. That said, I have met too many great writers to mention — I don’t want to leave anybody out! I have never met my idol, Philip Roth, though — so if anybody has his phone number, can you pass it to me?


Your favorite BEA parties?
Yours, of course. (Note: Party for Tab Hunter Confidential, June 2006. Among the many hundreds of people in attendance were Tab’s close friend, Joyce DeWitt–otherwise known as Janet Wood on Three’s Company–much to the delight of many of us who grew up with the show; and James Ellroy, who regaled everyone with tales that were hilarious and sordid in equal measure.)

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Favorite books you’ve read recently (w/in last year or so):
A Reliable Wife, Cutting for Stone, The True Memoirs of Little K, Unbroken, A Visit from the Goon Squad

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You’re going to be stranded on a desert island: You can choose two people from the publishing industry to take with you. Who are they? (No Algonquin people can join you, unfortunately–we’ll all be stranded on a cruise ship.)
If I can’t take Chuck Adams (Algonquin’s executive editor), I’m not going.

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How many times have your friends/extended family members asked if you could get them on the Oprah Show?
Only a few. How many have wanted me to get their books on the show . . . well, that’s a different story.

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Umm, I have this book for you, and I think Oprah would really love it. May I get her cell phone number from you?
As Jackie Onassis reportedly said to her onetime boyfriend, the journalist Pete Hamill, when he suggested she allow him to write a profile of her: “Gimme a break!”


–Michael Taeckens, Online and Paperback Marketing Director

3 Comments On This Post:

November 18, 2010
9:29 am
Kathy L. Patrick says...

You go Sara Nelson! I love this and love that you are with a magazine that will appreciate all you have done for books! Thanks to Algonquin too for sharing this!
Keepiing the home fires burning for promoting literacy,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the now 402 chapters of The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs

November 18, 2010
5:31 pm
Charlie Boswell says...

I’m also a big fan of Sara Nelson, and certainly a main reason is the outstanding makeover she did for PW as well as her always interesting and usually thought-provoking columns. Alas, PW is backsliding without her. Met her just once, but I won’t ever forget the experience though she surely has.

June 3, 2011
9:53 am
Algonquin Talks with Greg Cowles, The New York Times Book Review | Algonquin Books Blog says...

[…] at the New York Times Book Review. Previously, we featured Amy Salit, producer at Fresh Air; Sara Nelson, books editor at O: The Oprah Magazine; and Ron Charles, book review editor at the Washington Post. […]

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