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  • Thursday, September 22, 2005


    The Scarlet O

    More Oprah syncophancy from the NY Times:

    Oprah Winfrey said yesterday that she was expanding her highly influential television book club to include the works of contemporary authors, reversing a policy of choosing only classic novels and once again offering authors and their publishers the hope of huge sales resulting from her picks.

    "I wanted to open the door and broaden the field," Ms. Winfrey said in an interview. "That allows me the opportunity to do what I like to do most, which is sit and talk to authors about their work. It's kind of hard to do that when they're dead."

    As her first selection under the new criteria, Ms. Winfrey chose "A Million Little Pieces," by James Frey, a harrowing 2003 memoir about the author's stay in a treatment center to address his alcoholism and drug addiction.

    From 1996 to 2002, a book's selection for Oprah's Book Club typically resulted in sales of more than a million copies, a boon to authors and publishers in a business where selling 20,000 copies of a literary novel is considered a success. Her picks drew readers both to well-regarded authors like Toni Morrison and to relative unknowns like Wally Lamb and Anita Shreve.

    Ms. Winfrey abandoned the book club in 2002 but restarted it a year later in a different form, choosing only classic novels, mostly by authors long dead. While sales soared for some of her classic picks, like "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck, others did not reach expectations, most notably this summer's selection of three novels by William Faulkner.

    In an interview, Ms. Winfrey, who does not profit from the sales of the books she chooses, acknowledged that some recent selections did not draw the enthusiasm of some of her early ones. In a break with the past, no shows this summer were devoted to the Faulkner books; rather, she had extensive materials available on her Internet site (www.oprah.com).

    Okay. Let's stop right here. Those of us not in thrall of Oprah remember that one of the main reasons that the book club went on hiatus was when Jonathan Franzen didn't jump when Oprah said "jump" after she had chosen The Corrections, something writer Edward Wyatt doesn't mention until about the fifteenth paragraph:

    When she stopped choosing contemporary books, Ms. Winfrey said she was struggling to find enough titles that she felt compelled to share with her viewers, a statement that angered many publishers. But the change also followed by a few months a highly public quarrel with Jonathan Franzen, whose novel "The Corrections" was chosen by Ms. Winfrey in September 2001.

    After Mr. Franzen made public comments suggesting that her choices were unsophisticated and appealed mainly to women, she revoked an invitation for him to appear on her show.

    Ms. Winfrey dismissed the notion that his remarks influenced her decision to drop the book club. "Jonathan Franzen was not even a blip on the radar screen of my life," she said. "I didn't think one day about it."

    To which we say, "bullshit" (or "malarkey" if you're a virgin). Frantzen made Oprah look bad by taking a swipe at her readers and Oprah was humiliated. Oh sure, not as humiliated as when a Herm├Ęs shopgirl turned her snooty nose up at Oprah in front of her friends, but more humiliated than the time when she was riding Steadman reverse-cowgirl, lost her balance, and fell off and crushed one of the dogs. That was pretty bad too.

    I appreciate the fact that Oprah is getting her viewers to read as opposed to say, sitting around the house watching people alternately whine and then congratulate themselves on daytime TV, but Oprah's selections pretty much ran the gamut from dysfunctional families to...more dysfunctional families, proving that at least she knows her you-go-girl demographic. For a few authors, it's a goldrush and good for them, but they do run the risk of becoming an Oprah writer instead of following their own muse.

    Then there is the Oprah "O" on the cover that allows her readers to remember which book they are supposed to pick up what with having that TV-generation short attention span and all. More than a few times I've heard people in bookstores ask clerks if they have a non-Oprah edition, which I'm assuming is because they either don't to look like an Oprah-bot or they've got that coolness thing going (and here I will raise my hand. When I bought my copy of The Corrections it had already mutated into the Oprah edition)

    Some of her choices have been inspired (reaching back for Song of Solomon, House of Sand and Fog) and some have been, 'feh' (I Know This Much Is True, White Oleander, Stones From The River) and still others were bold but maybe a bit of a stretch such as One Hundred Years of Solitude. By the way, since she is looking for living authors, how did I miss the Gabriel Garcia Marquez episode?

    And so Oprah leaps into the fray again with yet more dysfunction and her fans will eat it up. Next month, who knows? But we're pretty sure she won't be picking this one.

    The horror...the horror....


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