The three of them celebrated with a three-way chat. Then Napolitano finally went home and told her husband — who never second-guessed her writing career, even during lean times — why it had taken her so long to dispose of the garbage.

“Ann walked in wearing a coat and said, ‘Oprah Winfrey just called me on my phone,’” Wilde recalled in an email. “Her eyes were wide with adrenaline, a contrast from her default steadiness. The first thought that came to mind was ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”

He’d seen how “Hello Beautiful” had overtaken Napolitano. Writing “Dear Edward,” she’d said, had been like entering a separate world, happily, then leaving when she felt like it. The Padavano sisters took a different approach: they occupied Napolitano, demanding attention, bringing their saints, their coffee and their chaos.

“It was a very intense experience,” Napolitano said. “The story raced out of me. It was like holding onto the fender of a car, being banged across town.”

Napolitano started “Hello Beautiful” in April 2020, the loneliest chapter of the pandemic, a time of fear and isolation. It was also the month her father died.

“We weren’t able to see him when he was dying and we weren’t able to gather, like so many people,” Napolitano said. “I was trying to find connection and love, and I needed that house with those loud sisters. It really did feel like I needed this book.”

Winfrey echoed a version of the same sentiment. “I felt less alone because of books during that period of being isolated,” she said, describing how, “as a girl growing up in Mississippi and Milwaukee, all the times I felt so removed and not valued, it was books — “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” in particular — that made me feel that I was connected to the world.”

She went on, “And so, in the beginning was the word. The power of the word to help transform our own emotions and our own belief in what’s possible for us? I don’t think anything transcends that.”

Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.

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