East of Eden, the classic by John Steinbeck (search), is on its way to becoming a monster-selling title for the first time since the early 1950s, now that it's been picked by the relaunched Oprah's Book Club (search).
Late last week, East of Eden (search) had reached No. 2 on the Amazon.com best-seller list, behind Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which went on sale Saturday with 8.5 million books in print.
Penguin, publisher of Eden, had a massive 600,000 first printing of a new edition of the classic after learning it was Oprah's pick. Winfrey announced the selection on her show on Wednesday, and within 24 hours of the unveiling, Penguin had gone back on press two more times, boosting the number of new editions in print to 790,000.
"It has always sold nicely, but now this has sent it through the roof," said Kathryn Court, president and publisher of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics.
Winfrey, who made her last book club selection in April 2002, is restarting the club after the yearlong hiatus — but now plans to pick only classics.
While demand for Eden is up, it is not clear if it will qualify for the New York Times best-seller list. Generally, the list does not track so-called "back list," or non-current titles.
Chip McGrath, editor of the Times Book Review, said there have been exceptions — for instance, when a new movie triggers a surge of interest in an old title such as The Hobbit or Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. But if every old book made the list, the Bible would always have a spot.
Right now, sales results for Eden are not tallied. "We are going to track it," said McGrath. "If it gets up there, we'll make a decision."
The Steinbeck classic first appeared in 1952, and has been selling 40,000 to 50,000 copies a year, according to Penguin's Court.