Embedded with Oprah

Good news from the battlefield. I've talked with a few of you before about how happy I am with the second iteration of Oprah's Book Club. Not that I've ever watched an episode or checked out the web content or read any of the books in conjunction with her recommendations. (Okay, I reread Light in August last month--good, but not as good as I remembered it--but I bought a beaten copy from a used bookstore, rather than the spiffy 3-book set and I didn't actually participate in any book clubs; and I'm now reading Anna Karenina, but only because the Oprah hullabaloo informed me that Pevear had turned from translating Dostoevsky to Tolstoy.) So when I was reading Light in August, I was curious just what Oprah was doing with these books, especially the more difficult Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. This article, when it doesn't digress into Lit-lectures on Faulkner, gives a bit of a scoop.

I suppose I loved the rise of OBC2 because it was putting in lots of people's hands not only good books, but difficult and original and good books. But I figured that the vast majority of [insert your assumptions about Oprah viewers] would give up a few pages in, and only a minority would get anything out of it besides exposure to something Great. In my mind, a little exposure was good, and that a handful of people might fall in love with it (I remember my silly, ignorant self and how dramatically he was changed by As I Lay Dying) was marvelous. I'm pleasantly surprised to find that maybe people are more willing to work hard for good fiction than I'd thought (as long as someone they respect is prodding them to). It's interesting. And with all the talk of declining readership and lazy readership, it's nice to see something good.


dunkeys said...

I'm guessing you're all aware of this petition from contemporary female authors requesting Oprah to return to using contemporary books for her club, in place of classics. They claim, "The American literary landscape is in distress. Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the numbers of people who are reading. Readers complain that, although daunting numbers of new books are published, too few of them are brought to the public's attention in a meaningful way. Readers have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like. They, the readers, need you. And we, the writers, need you."

(Help us, Oprah-wan, you're our only hope!)

(from www.wordofmouthwriters.org)

Does anyone have strong feelings about this, either way?

Grendel said...

It's sad that the choice seems to be one or the other. Why can't we have both? Why is Oprah the only person who appears capable of wielding this power?

Of course it's great that she's got people actually reading and discussing Faulkner. It would also be great if people were reading and discussing more new novels.

Maybe too many new novels are being published? Maybe if more magazines and television shows presented book reviews or recommendations the problem would resolve itself? Seems weird that one woman must take on this entire burden.

Jane said...

There are numerous other mass-media book clubs -- the Today Show, USA Today, etc. -- which have attempted to do what Oprah did with contemporary novels, but none of them have really taken off. The thing is, a lot of mainstream magazines and TV shows (like Today, for example) DO include book reviews and author profiles. And still, the majority of Americans insist on reading Dean Koontz and Dan Brown. Or, even more commonly, just watching the tube. What can you do?

Grendel said...

Huh. Ask and ye shall receive. Oprah's old book club is back.