I recently finished Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America by Kathleen Rooney. Rooney evaluated Oprah’s Book Club in terms of the cultural impact of the club as well as the various criticisms of the OBC. The discussion of “high-“vs. “low-brow” culture was very interesting as well as the definition of “truthiness” as it pertains to the James Frey debacle. Rooney included extensive quotes and opinions from many of the OBC selected authors - she sent a questionnaire asking about the authors' personal feelings about the OBC and the inclusion of their work on the show (even Jonathan Franzen responded).
Say what you want about Oprah’s Book Club but it did get hundreds of thousands, millions, maybe, of people to read a work of fiction. Even people who professed to not have read anything after high school graduation went out and bought Fall on Your Knees or The Poisonwood Bible or Sula and many other titles, one after the other. The 63 selections are mostly wonderful works of literary fiction and I’ve read twelve of the selections myself.
But not because I follow the OBC. Or watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show". In truth I am far from Oprah’s target audience. My mother never watched daytime television so I never picked up the habit; I’m never home during the afternoon and don’t feel the need to tape anything during the day to watch once I drag myself back home at night. Instead, I read (in this way I am more like Oprah herself, who claims to read in the evenings rather than watch television). The OBC phenomenon never struck me as particularly interesting because why the heck would I let someone whose opinion I couldn’t really care for (and a television personality to boot, no thank you) tell me what to read? I’d have to watch the show then, right? Even in the second reincarnation of the club when an online component made participation easier I still wasn’t interested. I’d already read East of Eden and just didn’t want to look like one of the many little media-controlled sheep buying and toting around their paperbacks with the little Oprah sticker; it’s a little too “Josie and the Pussycats” for me. I actually spent an hour with a hairdryer removing the Oprah sticker from The Road because I was so disappointed that ALL the books came with the sticker when the novel released in paperback; I wanted to read McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel because it won the Pulitzer, not because a TV show I don’t watch said it was good.
Oprah has become the guru for so many people but Oprah’s opinion simply doesn’t matter to me; the opinions that matter to me are those of my friends and fellow booksellers, people I know and see every day in real life. Oprah’s not my book guru – my book guru is my friend Kat (who also happens to be the merchandise manager at my store). Kat has amazing taste and is the most well-read person I know. She’s on a mission to read all the New York Review of Books Classics titles – she suggested a group of us read their new Pinocchio – and introduced me to Special Topics in Calamity Physics. She loves literary fiction (as do I) and I can always count on her to find me a new, wonderful, and quirky book to read. She is also the one who found the Rooney book…and then persuaded me to buy it when I expressed interest in reading it.
So, who’s your book guru?
Current book-in-progress: Runaway by Alice Munro
Current knitted item: fuzzy blue top-down sweater
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: The Five Browns