By the time you read this, she'll have done it. Oprah will have announced her next book-club pick, and readers all over the country will be racing to bookstores and libraries to claim their copies.
I'm placing my bet along with my colleague Ron Hogan of Galleycat, who went on record yesterday in USA Today saying he believed Oprah would choose "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan. Akpan isn't your run-of-the-mill short-story writer; a Nigerian Jesuit, Akpan has quite an active day job as the priest to a boys school in Africa. This is a man who is writing not because he wants to be an author, but because he has stories deep within his soul that need to be told. Yet he is also a witty, warm, and loving person whose knowledge and experiences have not closed him off to the possibility of hope, whose belief in redemption of the human spirit is very much alive.
"Say You're One of Them" is not the sort of literary collection that you carry to an overstuffed armchair with a cup of hazelnut coffee. The children in these stories are experiencing life's brutality at a level most of us can't comprehend, let alone imagine. You should read Akpan's work on a sunny day, outside, and with as much courage as you can muster - but you should read his work. I'm this shy of telling you that you must read it. It truly is not for everyone.
But if you do read these stories, you will be forever changed. If Oprah has indeed chosen this book as her next pick, I say Brava! Put down your latest thriller, chick-lit novel, romance, or droll literary fiction and instead enter a world where hope can be as ephemeral as aerosol fumes to keep you high and free from hunger when you're eight years old