Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Good news for the literary world: Oprah approves of Eli Wiesel—it is now safe to read Night. Whew.

I can’t say exactly why I get so annoyed whenever I see that Oprah has chosen a classic for her book club selection. I mean, I love classics. I’m disturbed by the thought that there are entire classes of high school students that graduate without ever having read To Kill a Mockingbird and Johnny Tremain. Theoretically, anything that gets people reading classic literature is okay with me. But in actuality, I am also disturbed by the thought that the American public needs Oprah’s recommendation to pick up Anna Karenina.

I am not wholly opposed to the idea of celebrity book clubs—or book clubs in general. A lot of my reading is based on recommendations from other people. And the simple truth of the matter is that Oprah sells books. If her endorsement can get Night on the bestseller list—even for a week—part of me thinks I should just shut up and be glad people are reading it. But on the other hand, I don’t really trust her taste. I mean, seriously—you can’t read Tolstoy without reading Dostoevsky and come away with a decent idea about Russian literature. You get no context, no counterpoint. It’s maddening that Tolstoy’s moralistic bombast will be all some people know of the great Slavic writers. C’mon, Oprah—throw us a bone!

Oprah’s book club, of course, has been in the news most recently because of her public endorsement of James Frey’s faux-memoir, A Million Little Pieces, just before his public unmasking as a liar. While I respect Oprah for retracting her endorsement and having Frey back on her show to give him the chance to apologize and/or explain his actions, I’m bothered by the whole-hearted support she gave Frey after reading his book. Does Oprah simply not have a truth/fiction filter? Frey’s falsified accounts of his own debauchery should and did raise alarms with everyone I know who read the book. The Smoking Gun’s revelations were not even the first time Frey was publicly questioned. And if Oprah’s bullshit detector is really that flawed, do we really trust this woman to choose our reading material for us?

Just a few questions to ponder while we wait for Ms. Winfrey to approve the next return bestseller.


Blogger Loribelle Hunt said...

I know I should just be glad that she's getting people to read, but I can't help but think the things she picks would drive most people away from books, especially if her picks were all they read. The woman has a knack for depressing.

I tried a couple of the early picks and decided Oprah's books are not for me. I'm sure she does a lot of things just fine, but picking books is not one of them.

Now that I'm done with school, I just assume skip all Russian literature thanks lol, but if I was going to recommend something Anna Karenina would not be high my list. Talk about heavy reading. I remember wading through that book, but I love Faulkner and Hemingway, so I'm hardly a good judge lol.

Geez, what a ramble. Basically, I didn't trust her to pick any of my books before the Frey incident. I definitely won't now.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Jana J. Hanson said...

I agree that Oprah's picks seem to be a bit on the depressing side (or just plain not good, i. e. Beloved by Toni Morrison).

That's not to say she should choose books with little substance, but maybe she just needs someone better to help her make her book club choices.

2:32 PM  

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