Today Oprah announced the title of her 65th book club selection.
Why are you rolling your eyes? No, seriously, why? I'd really like to know.
I became a fan of Oprah in 1996, though I'd never seen her show, because that was the year she inaugurated her book club. I'm still a fan of Oprah...and I still haven't seen her show (except for hugely famous clips, like the one where Tom Cruise jumps on the couch, or when everybody in the audience gets a car). I didn't much care one way or the other about that first selection, The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard, but you can bet your ass that as a reader and a bookseller I cared about the millions--yes, literally millions--of people who were inspired to read because Oprah did. Not just because she drove people into bookstores to purchase books--although there's no question that her book club drove book sales as nobody's recommendations before or since--but because she got people reading.
And she got them reading books that were, by and large, pretty darn good.
What, more eye rolling? What is with you people?
She selected works from such Nobel laureates as Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck, William Faulkner, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Not impressed? Then how about the multi-cultural depth and breadth of her selections? Viewers traveled around the world with Oprah, reading authors as diverse as Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Isabel Allende (Chile), Garcia Marquez (Colombia), Rohinton Mistry (India), and Malika Oufkir (Morocco).
Her selections have generated controversy--and oh, the discussions!--as when A Million Little Pieces by James Frey turned out to have been largely fabricated (a tempest in a teapot as far as I'm concerned...aren't all books fabricated?) and she called him to task in front of the country, or when the snobbish Jonathan Franzen withdrew his novel The Corrections as a selection (but not before it had shot to the top of the bestseller list, thanks to the big O's endorsement).
But back to her readers. I cannot tell you how moved I have been when a timid woman approached me at the information desk and asked for a book because "Oprah told me it was good." And then to have her come back the following month, having read a 500 page literary novel (a feat she'd never even attempted before in her life) and eager to get the next selection so she could read another. Thousands and thousands of people who had never read a book of their own accord read the books that Oprah recommended. Sometimes they branched out and read other books, too.
So why the knee-jerk reaction? You don't like the titles she chooses? Is As I Lay Dying any less great because Oprah chose it for her book club? How about Anna Karenina? Love in the Time of Cholera? Would you really not be willing to read the new Joyce Carol Oates because she once got the nod from Ms. Winfrey? Is Elie Wiesel's memoir of Holocaust survival and redemption Night any less devastating or uplifting because Oprah recommended it to her viewers and discussed it on her show?
Oprah Winfrey has done nothing but good for the reading, book buying, and bookselling communities, and it makes me sad when I see the eye rolling among my co-workers, or read snobbish comments regarding Oprah book club selections in online book chats. Sure, her selections are sometimes New Age-y (The Power of Now), and occasionally celeb memoir-y (The Measure of a Man), but by and large they're good, nicely written mainstream fiction.
Sometimes they're even great.
The newest selection?
It's a twofer: Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Oh no, does that mean they're not classics anymore?
Oh, go get an absinthe and read some Celine. Wouldn't want you to be tempted by something as deliciously juicy as a couple of big fat Victorian novels.
1 month ago