You know, probably the fastest way to ensure a small readership is to say something negative about Oprah. I’ve really been kicking myself lately about my lack of blogging, and have had some serious blog envy (post to follow shortly – really) – and while I’m well aware that blogging about why I don’t like Oprah probably won’t gain me any fans, I’m going to forge ahead anyway. I suppose losing my 3 readers (actually 2 – as I am a subscriber of my own blog) won’t make much of a difference.
I’ve had an adversarial relationship with Oprah’s Book Club for some time now, but my emotion about it came to a head recently when I finished a great novel – Lonesome Dove – for at least the 6th time. That’s 5,670 pages of the most epic frontier novel of my generation – full of humor, adventure, love, loyalty, hardship and heartache. Every time I read this book, I pick up something new – a nuance, or a different focus on one of the characters, or a different perspective. This last time, I feel like I finally, FINALLY understood the whole tragic story, and I loved every moment of it.
I wanted to tell the world! During the last 50 or so pages, I wept, and felt heartbroken and sad, and had goosebumps on my arms as I was reading those 10 tragically poignant last words. And where were my fellow readers to share in my emotional recap of this novel? At home, not answering their phones, noses buried in one of Oprah’s recommendations (or, worse yet – not reading at all). Never mind that I, an avid reader and trusted friend, have a great personal recommendation to share – evidently my opinion means little compared to that of Oprah’s (imagine that). And not only does no one care about what I have to say about this great novel, but even when I can drag my friends out of their Oprah-induced literary seclusions, all they have to talk about is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle or The Deep End of the Ocean.
Zzzzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry – wake me when someone has a book to talk about other than the current Oprah-recommended novel that EVERY WOMAN (and man, I suppose) IN AMERICA IS TALKING ABOUT. Let’s be clear: I’m sure that these are excellent recommendations, and amazing stories. And when I get over my narcissism and indignation that no one’s paying attention to ME, I’ll probably read them. At least some of them. But what bugs me about Oprah’s Book Club is that the sheer force of the powerful name attached to these selected novels makes the reading of them more of a fad by the mainstream public – the wine-swilling, potluck-style book club groups of America – than a thoughtful and diverse selection of great writing by the readers. There are so many incredible books to be read that it seems almost thoughtless to only pick up those books that are at the top of the most mainstream list without considering the millions of other great stories left on the shelf.
I’m no literary authority (at least, not publicly – I keep my bookmark badge in a special drawer at home). But over the years I’ve acquired a love of great stories, and perhaps I’m reluctant to allow myself to be open to Oprah’s Book Club because in the re-reading of many of my favorite novels, I return to familiar places, much-loved characters and the delicious pleasure of knowing the end of a great story but making myself read through to the end anyway.
On my “classics” list (defined simply as novels I love and have returned to time and time again):
–One Hundred Years of Solitude (yes, I read this before Oprah put it on HER list)
–The Accidental Tourist
–Giants in the Earth
…and many, many more.
Over time I’ve realized that I have a true passion for stories told about Westerners and pioneers – the establishment of our great country by the earliest intrepid visitors on its lands. So I guess I do need to branch out, and probably Oprah could help a bit with that. But I’d rather a friend of mine shared something that she really likes, and is personal to her – because isn’t that what reading and discussing great books is about? The passion and the emotion a well-written novel brings out in its reader?
At least, that’s what I think. So the next novel I pick up may be a dog-eared favorite of mine, or a new recommendation of yours. But it probably won’t be on Oprah’s list. So there.