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Trouble brewing in the Oprah Book Club.
October 24, 2001 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Trouble brewing in the Oprah Book Club. So Jonathan Franzen's critically-acclaimed "The Corrections" is selected by Oprah for her book club - meaning hundreds of thousands in sales, increased publicity, etc. He says "no thanks, you schmaltzy, woman-pandering, literary-wannabe hack." Well, not exactly... (nyt link)
posted by conquistador (82 comments total)

 
"it's not who reads your book; it's how many."
posted by moz at 8:49 AM on October 24, 2001


Franzen does take a couple of shots at the book club and expresses concern about having the Oprah logo plastered on his book. Oprah then retracts her standard book club invitation to have dinner with the Ms. O and selected audience members. Franzen then blames the whole affair on his inexperience in dealing with the media.

I think I agree with him, though. As much as I agree with Oprah's efforts to increase interest in reading, on more than one occasion I've passed over a book because of the large OPRAH logo on the cover. And you?
posted by conquistador at 8:49 AM on October 24, 2001


Seems like he might wind up with the best of both worlds: he gets Oprah's middle-brow endorsement without losing his elitist status.
posted by yerfatma at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2001


Excuse me for turning into an afterschool special, but Oprah's book club inspires millions of adults to read books. How is this a cause for concern?
posted by rcade at 8:59 AM on October 24, 2001


Mr.Franzen is an amateur. The book you write is the book you write, no matter who pans or praises it. Professional writers are glad of every single book they sell.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:00 AM on October 24, 2001


If Oprah's endorsement is a guarantee of sky-high sales, then surely a rejection of Oprah's endorsement and the press such a rejection creates (even becoming fodder for Metafilter) will be an even better guarantee. Credit the author with savvy marketing skills.
posted by yesster at 9:01 AM on October 24, 2001


My concern is that adults need to be inspired to read. (something besides the sports and/or comics page of hte local newspaper)
posted by tj at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2001


The Oprah Book Club is a tough thing. There are some real gems in her collection, but in general she picks depressing, well-written feminist fiction that tends to make me want to gag. As a woman, I find the emphasis on predatory relationships and the social "powerlessness" of woman rather insulting. The seal might better read "An Oprah Victim of the Month Selection."
posted by xyzzy at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2001


Franzen botched this and may have a hard time recovering from the bad PR. Regardless of his feelings about the marginzalizing effect this would have on his potential male audience, he's foolish to dismiss the HUGE women's market this way. His success depends on how he handles the damage control.

However, I have to agree that many of the books Ms. Winfrey endorses ARE just trite down-on-her-luck-woman-prevails novels. But Oprah's vast fan base seem to love these. (Aside: As a woman, I don't like being pandered to this Lifetime Network sort of way, but I'm very much in the minority here). I, too, avoid the "O" seal when book shopping. Maybe there are enough readers out there who will be stimulated to buy this book becasue of his rejection.
posted by Vacaloca at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2001


Oprah's book club inspires millions of adults to read only those books which Oprah deems worthwhile. You're doing nothing to further the cause of literacy if you focus only one one woman's narrow perspective of "quality" writing.

(I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but Beloved was a truly, awfully, shitty, shitty, shitty book.)
posted by Danelope at 9:04 AM on October 24, 2001


i think oprah is a very intelligent person, so i would not disparage her choice of literature on the sole fact that it is oprah making the choice. that said, i am an indie brat. if a book is "mainstream," i rarely purchase it -- at least until the me-too buyers have moved onto something else. but, hey: i figure my habits of buying books are at least as annoying as the habits of those who buy only from oprah's selected list of books. we're all in the same boat after all.
posted by moz at 9:05 AM on October 24, 2001


Franzen's primary mistake seems to be that allowed himself to be honestly and openly engaged by the questions interviewers asked him. He seems pretty heartfelt and reasonable in the interviews I've read--relating his feelings to the ambivalence of indie rockers who get picked up by a big label and having respect for Oprah's gig. See, for example, his interview with Powell's Books (one of the best bookstores ever, btw).
posted by donovan at 9:10 AM on October 24, 2001


If he's being sincere (which I doubt), his beef is with his publisher, not Oprah (i.e., his fear of the stigma of an Oprah label on the jacket). He should have thought of that before he signed away rights to that kind of control (which, I'm sure, is standard contract stuff, but still...)
posted by tippiedog at 9:11 AM on October 24, 2001


As much as Franzen's interview ended up being bad PR, I'm actually happy to hear him express that view. Personally, I actively avoid works selected by Oprah's Book Club, and was startled to find that the copies of The Corrections I had initially seen in print were being replaced by ones with the Oprah logo, just so, centered on the cover. Obviously, Oprah hasn't solely chosen dogs, but there's enough crap in her picks (in my mind) that I think using her brand as a deterrent has worked for me in the past. To see it on The Corrections, which is a fine book, was misleading. And I think it's probably misleading to the average Oprah Book Club reader, who isn't expecting and probably wouldn't appreciate a book like The Corrections.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 9:12 AM on October 24, 2001


My concern is that adults need to be inspired to read.

The sad truth is that most adults do need a push in that direction.
"According to The Twilight of American Culture by Dr. Morris Berman, there are 120 million adults who read at a fifth-grade level or less; 60 percent of the adult population has never read a book of any kind; and only 6 percent reads as much as one book a year." (source
posted by rcade at 9:18 AM on October 24, 2001


Hear hear, Vacaloca! The Lifetime Network is an excellent example of what I hate about television programming, fiction, and art that is supposed to appeal to the majority of women. I am one weird chick, apparantly. I watch Alias, Enterprise, Band of Brothers, and Star Trek Next Gen reruns, and my favorite movies include Starship Troopers (shh, it DOES satire fascism!), The Matrix, and Dangerous Liasons. My nightstand currently contains The Things They Carried, Goedel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid, and Sin and Syntax, among others. I about as interested in the programming on Lifetime as I am in contracting an incurable disease, and my efforts to wade through Oprah's selections that one of my friends buys religiously is what gave me the impression that Oprah likes to market victimhood.
posted by xyzzy at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2001


(I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but Beloved was a truly, awfully, shitty, shitty, shitty book.)

I'll be sure to contact you if I'm thinking of reading any books which may, potentially, be shitty.

Oh...that was just your opinion...sorry.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:25 AM on October 24, 2001


I'm reminded of an interview with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, who's about as indie as they come in the music business (and one of America's greatest living songwriters), in which he was asked what his goals are in the music business. (paraphrasing) "I would love to have one of my songs done by a 'boy band' like 'N Sync or Backstreet Boys," Stephin responded. The interviewer thought he was kidding, but Stephin insisted otherwise: "Do you know how many people listen to those bands, and how much money their songwriters make?"

Many people confuse "success" (in the form of an Oprah seal, or slot on MTV, or whatever) with "selling out." The problem comes when artists or authors allow their creativity to be altered or defined by the promise of success, or the perceived desires of a potential audience. Oprah's seal of approval just about guarantees successful book sales, and I'm sure there are many authors out there who write books specifically to appeal to Oprah's perceived audience (and hoping to get that "O" on the cover). However, these writers are amateur hacks, to slightly modify Miguel's description. To Oprah's credit, she doesn't allow herself to fall into these amateurs' traps and choose their books. (At least, not often; though she does have a problem with choosing books that are just variations of a theme.) Many of her selections are very good books by truly "professional" authors who should be proud of their works and any commercial success they garner.
posted by arco at 9:25 AM on October 24, 2001


I suppose there's really no need to mention the age-old adage (which seems appropriate enough in this case that I'm surprised no-one mentioned it), "Can't judge a book by it's cover." O's had some winners and losers -- she's human, after all, and we humans have this tendency to have vastly different tastes -- so I'd personally suggest using some other form of research or criteria to decide which is a book you do or do not want to read. As an ex book-a-day reader (when I had access to my high school library), I learned that lesson quickly.

That people are reading recreationally is enough to balance that they are reading books Oprah personally prefers. But isn't that what it's about? We read books recommended to us all the time by media, by relatives, by friends... books that other people prefer and believe we will also.

Franzen missed an opportunity to get more people to read his book. All those word-of-mouth recommendations, lost. Of course, one cliche wasn't enough, so I'll mention vaguely something about looking a gift horse in the mouth, and biting the hand that feeds you, and leave it at that.
posted by precocious at 9:25 AM on October 24, 2001


I saw an AP release posted on Salon last night, if anyone wants a non-registration-required site to check out the story.

Also interesting, Amazon used to have a non-Oprah-endorsed edition of The Corrections -- but "the file you requested could not be found; now there's only the Oprah-endorsed edition. (I had remarked on this in the personal Amazon tabs thread of 9/26, so I had the urls documented, handily enough....)
posted by mattpfeff at 9:26 AM on October 24, 2001


I'm 3/4 of the way through The Corrections and for the most part, I'm disappointed. I thought The Twenty Seventh City was pretty good and I think Franzen has taken a step backwards here.

Regarding the Oprah situation, I offer Prodigal's law: Answering a reporter's question honestly will result in controversey 99% of the time.
posted by prodigal at 9:43 AM on October 24, 2001


(I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but Beloved was a truly, awfully, shitty, shitty, shitty book.)

The Nobel Committee and I disagree with you.
posted by ColdChef at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2001


Prodigal!

Finely, someone who's actually READ the book....
posted by preguicoso at 9:48 AM on October 24, 2001


Dude. I spelled 'finally' wrong.
posted by preguicoso at 9:49 AM on October 24, 2001


he's foolish to dismiss the HUGE women's market this way

Ack -- I don't think that it's accurate nor fair to conflate the Oprah market with the women's market. All women who buy and read books are the women's book market, and the author didn't dismiss them at all. He merely stated that he wasn't interested in having his book in a program which has many public detractors and as many 'cons' and 'pros' which does not mean that he doesn't want women, or even die-hard Oprah devotees (scary, scary people) to read it. I give the guy credit for valuing the integrity of his book's marketing instead of being all about the money that an O-association would generate. He lost a lot of readers -- what price glory? Clearly, Frantzen feels that the price of the O imprimatur is higher than he wants to pay and considering that he did write the book in question, that should be his decision to make -- or at least his opinion to share.
posted by Dreama at 9:51 AM on October 24, 2001


many of the books Ms. Winfrey endorses ARE just trite down-on-her-luck-woman-prevails novels.

Hmmm... kind of like Oprah.
posted by culberjo at 9:58 AM on October 24, 2001


The Nobel Committee and I disagree with you.
Well, the Nobel Committee gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel prize for Peace. So I guess it's O.K. to disagree with them
About Franzen: he's pretty mad because Oprah simply understood the fact that his book is middlebrow material. And therefore, a great Anne Tyler-ish choice for Oprah's book club. He'd like to be Salinger or Brodkey or something, but he's not.
The man doesn't want to belong to any club that will accept him as a member -- we can only refer here to Groucho Marx
I'm all for Oprah, even if I don't dig many of her choices.
posted by matteo at 10:07 AM on October 24, 2001


sounds like a complete misunderstanding to me.
posted by rebeccablood at 10:09 AM on October 24, 2001


Book clubs with celebrity endorsements have been running for over 200 years. New "highbrow" fiction that's published by big houses is already middlebrow: you simply don't get the advances these days otherwise.

This is an amusing insight into the realities of publication: it reminds me of the Martin Amis story in Dead Babies in which the publishing careers of contemporary poets and SF novelists are flipped over. At least Dave Eggers managed to articulate the questions behind "selling out" without looking too much of a prick. But then again, he avoided the Fickle Finger of Oprah.
posted by holgate at 10:24 AM on October 24, 2001


matteo,

I ought to join a club and beat you over the head with it.

(more Groucho, nothing personal, I couldn't resist)
posted by dfowler at 10:25 AM on October 24, 2001


I don't think that it's accurate nor fair to conflate the Oprah market with the women's market.

While I see your point, I've noticed that I've never seen a man reading an Oprah Club Selection on my daily bus rides.

And as for Franzen losing readers, I'm not sure he has. Unless I've misunderstood, his book is still a selection for the book club, it's just that he himself will not be interviewed on the show.

My personal gripe with Oprah's book club is that she insists on living authors only. Not that they don't write good stuff, but why she can't challenge her viewers to some classic literature is silly.
posted by dnash at 10:38 AM on October 24, 2001


The following food for thought is from a 1999 Salon article:
But even if reading does enhance the character, most of the books that Oprah recommends are designed to have just the opposite effect: to play on base sentiment, to reaffirm popular wisdom, to tell readers what they expect to hear and to help them learn what they already know. They're designed, like any sort of middlebrow dry-good or specialty food on the shelves at Target or Starbucks, to express their readers' (and Oprah's) tastes, and to reinforce what they think is right and wrong in the world....

But the great, eldritch power of literature isn't in books themselves, or in the base process of reading them. It's in the spark of abiding curiosity that honest writing can kindle in you, if you're prepared to trust it and to follow it halfway into its own premises. Literature -- even bad, honest literature -- changes you once you've experienced it well and fully. It makes you restive and always slightly hungry. It makes you feel not bigger, but incalculably smaller, because you're forced to realize that there are entire worlds -- locked up in distorted bits and fragments -- in more books than you'll ever have time to open.

But while Oprah's club members are reading a lot of Oprah books, there's no sign that they're branching off to read anything else in any great profusion -- no fiction, nonfiction or magazines. Apparently, all they're curious to read is what Oprah suggests to them.
posted by UnReality at 10:51 AM on October 24, 2001


arco: I agree 100%. Any industry that deals in the creation of art has two sides to it, the art and the business. It is the successful artist that learns to merge the two sides. I know that the starving writer thing is romantic to most and lends a bit of credibility to one's work, but it doesn't change the fact that writing is a profession and one of the many objects of a profession is to make money. I'm not talking about gobs and gobs of filthy lucre, but at least enough to make a living. The problem is that if you do get the opportunity to make those gobs, you have to balance that out with the idea of being a sellout. But to be a sellout, you have to fulfill certain criteria. Making money/becoming well-known are not the sole indicators of having sold out. If that were the case, Radiohead would easily be considered sellouts with the successful sales of OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac.

There is nothing wrong with Oprah Winfrey and certainly nothing wrong with her book club. Granted, MeFi is not her audience and this makes it an easy forum to tear her apart in. Oprah is the farthest thing in the world from a sellout. Why would having her promote your work be considered selling out? Sure, you can think of it as being the next Tae-Bo, but you'd be missing the fact that Oprah caters to a wide range of viewers with varying interests (though her demo seems to be very much female). Some would consider most of these interests to be of the middlebrow variety, but that is really just elitism speaking.

BTW: I'm trying to imagine Justin Timberlake singing Reno Dakota. It doesn't work for me. I think Merritt's a little too show-tuney for 'N-Sync.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:53 AM on October 24, 2001


eldricht?
posted by matteo at 10:54 AM on October 24, 2001


I, too, take exception to conflating Oprah's book club with The Woman's Market. While I have read quite a few of the books she endorses before she had the club (having taken a couple women's lit courses in college) and enjoyed most of them (Beloved, for example, which I thought was great) I generally avoid them now.

This is not because I don't trust Oprah's judgement so much as I fear being judged a mindless ewe who bleats eagerly for Oprah's new picks rather than searching out good literature herself. Also, I don't want anybody to think I watch Lifetime. Which I don't.

Thankfully, most of my local library's books are old enough to predate Oprah's book club so I can read what I want without the attached stigma.
posted by jennyb at 10:57 AM on October 24, 2001


My post makes it sound like I think all Oprah's picks are good literature, which I don't. I guess I'm trying to say some books she selects are good, many are tripe, and I don't want it assumed that I need Oprah to tell me what I want to read. Hence my avoidance of books that bear her seal.
posted by jennyb at 11:00 AM on October 24, 2001


I disagree that every author, or musician, just wants to maximize sales, or reach the largest number of people, whatever it takes. Some want to sell enough to maintain the lifestyle they aspire to, but shy clear of getting involved in marketing practices that they find distasteful. That choice can be made out of elitism or ethical integrity (and it's wrong to conflate the two).

Also you can say that Oprah is doing more good than harm, while still choosing not to get involved in that part of the "system". Don't most of us just try to live as idealistically as we can afford to, depending on what we perceive to be our needs?
posted by liam at 11:01 AM on October 24, 2001


"The first weekend after I heard I considered turning it down," Mr. Franzen told The Portland Oregonian, for example. "I see this as my book, my creation, and I didn't want that logo of corporate ownership on it...In the end, his publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a unit of Holtzbrinck..."

...Holtzbrinck family, which owns Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt, and St. Martin's Press.

If Franzen is a foe of corporate ownership, why doesn't he use a small press? Why didn't he turn down the Oprah's Book Club endorsement? What a snob!
posted by Carol Anne at 11:09 AM on October 24, 2001


carol anne: you remind me of morrissey's song, Reader Meet Author. it is somewhat relevant to this thread, i think.
posted by moz at 11:14 AM on October 24, 2001


Many people confuse "success" (in the form of an Oprah seal, or slot on MTV, or whatever) with "selling out."

Well said, and some great points made, arco.

I am a man, and I have read 3-5 books that had Oprah's "stamp" on them. I have never seen her deal with her book club on her show, so I can't comment to that side of it. But I must confess to feeling a certain hesitancy about buying a book when I see her stamp. Reading this thread, I've thought about why that might be, and I think a subconscious awareness of some of the characterizations of her reading taste made here is a big part of it. Together with an awareness of certain aspects of Oprah herself which turn me off. Also, the aesthetic of a book has always been rather important to me, and I dislike the stamp itself sullying the cover art (which may be a rather strange thing, but there it is). However, although I have hesitated reaching for books with her stamp, I have never changed my mind and not bought one for that reason. And I've never regretted reading any of them, though some are clearly superior to others, IMO. I quite enjoyed both I Capture the Castle and The Reader, for example.
posted by rushmc at 11:16 AM on October 24, 2001


I don't want it assumed that I need Oprah to tell me what I want to read. Hence my avoidance of books that bear her seal.

But isn't actively avoiding her picks allowing her to influence your reading just as much as if you only read her picks? I say read what you want, whatever labels the publisher may choose to slap on it.
posted by rushmc at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2001 [1 favorite]


I give the guy credit for valuing the integrity of his book's marketing instead of being all about the money that an O-association would generate.

I would give him credit if his sense of integrity had kicked in before agreeing to the Oprah deal. As it is, he's simply being rude. If Oprah's Book Club is inherently opposed to your values, then don't accept admission to it. And if you do choose to sign up -- taking all the money and exposure that entails -- for goodness' sake, be quiet about how "conflicted" you are.
posted by mw at 11:32 AM on October 24, 2001


But isn't actively avoiding her picks allowing her to influence your reading just as much as if you only read her picks?

Sure. But Jenny didn't say she wanted to avoid being influenced by Oprah; she said she wanted to avoid being perceived as being influenced by Oprah.

Two entirely different things...
posted by kindall at 11:34 AM on October 24, 2001


But Jenny didn't say she wanted to avoid being influenced by Oprah; she said she wanted to avoid being perceived as being influenced by Oprah.

I guess I don't quite get the distinction, but then, I don't often worry too much about others' perceptions of my reading material, either. So you're saying that Jenny is saying that it's okay to read Oprah picks so long as no one KNOWS that you are reading Oprah picks? :::scratches head:::
posted by rushmc at 11:37 AM on October 24, 2001


she wanted to avoid being perceived as being influenced by Oprah

We'll you could always buy the "Big O" edition of a book and wrap it with brown paper when reading on the bus. Then again, people might think you were reading something obscene.

Here's a solution: rip the cover off one of Miguel's books, then glue it to the front of your copy of The Corrections. That'll confuse 'em!
posted by arco at 11:42 AM on October 24, 2001


I'm considering giving my copy of The Corrections to a friend and buying a new one with the Oprah's Book Club sticker on it. I hate the attitude that the good and the popular must ever be at war, and it'd make me happy to have a piece of evidence that it's not true sitting around.
posted by lbergstr at 11:43 AM on October 24, 2001


The fact that he later apologized suggests he's either an insensitive snob or he just wants the bucks. If he really hadn't wanted to insult her, he wouldn't have talked about her that way.
Also, the reference to his article about sophisticated, socially engaged novels suggests his agenda includes social engagement. First of all, social engagement seems pretty important to Oprah. And yet, there are plenty of great novels that have no social engagement and plenty of shitty ones that do.
posted by phartizan at 12:10 PM on October 24, 2001


arco: yes, but reading something obscene gets you more indie-coolness points than reading something with an Oprah logo on it. And that's what we're talking about, isn't it?

As far as I can tell this is a big flame-up about almost nothing. The guy was asked what he thought about this, and he said he wasn't so keen on having the Oprah logo stuck onto the front of his book, and kaboom! there it all goes. Well, I can see his point of view - if you've created something, and you're proud of it, it would feel weird to have an advertisement for somebody else's creation stuck onto the front of it. The only reason this is a controversial thing to say is that the logo in question belongs to someone a great many people feel affection for.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:58 PM on October 24, 2001


Hmm. The reason Franzen was initially upset, I think, is because he perceives himself (as many do) as a member of a relatively elite literary community, along with David Foster Wallace and all them. Oprah's placing her stamp of approval is essentially equivalent to her telling the world that she sees him as a member of middlebrow America, as matteo points out above. Naturally, he demurred. I doubt book sales had anything to do with it -- he was defending his identity as an artist.

As for people's distaste for reading Oprah-approved material, isn't it much the same thing? Many of us perceive ourselves as appreciating a higher level of artistry than that typically recommended by Oprah. We also see ourselves as being more discerning than the unthinking masses that buy and read a book just because Oprah says to -- and appear to neither think for themselves about what to read next, nor question her recommendations very much, if at all.

But all this anxiety over our perceived artistic sensibilities is pretty strange, if you think about it. Shakespeare was as low-brow as they come, in his day, for example. In the end, The Corrections will be judged on its merits (and Oprah's will not be the last word) -- and our own artistic sensibilities will be judged not on what we read (or watch or see on exhibit), but on what we think of it and have to say about it.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:15 PM on October 24, 2001


The Nobel Committee and I disagree with you.

Yes, it seems the committee has chosen some bad ones and some good ones. They're only human afterall.

I object, mildly I might add, to Oprah's club, because of the idea of "Oprah." She's positioned herself to be a "guru" of sorts to millions of people who also apparently have a hard time finding their own books. Or discovering what they might like to read without being told by a t.v. personality/pop-culture icon what to read.
posted by alethe at 1:23 PM on October 24, 2001


My view on Oprah:

Some people are idiots. They need someone to tell them how to act and sometimes how to respect themselves (besides not listening to A-holes like me calling them idiots, of course). Oprah Winfrey is a pretty positive model and influence for a lot of people. At least it's not the Jerry Springer Reading Club.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2001


I was unaware that Oprah's Book Club was designed to establish her as a literary guru.

Last I knew (from someone who's never read one of her selections; too into fantasy/sci-fi), the club was only about books that she personally preferred, and so wanted to share with her fans. When you see a good movie/eat at a good restaurant/etc., don't you extol its virtues to friends/family?

I personally suggest anything by R. A. Salvatore, if you're a fantasy reader, as well as Juliette Marillier, C. J. Cheryh, and several others, fully aware that some'll be turned on and others won't. Do I think that I am a sage of the fantasy genre? Not even.

( Nor do I think Oprah's sitting around, rubbing her hands fiendishly together and saying, "Those brainless automatons have bought yet another of My Book Club Books. World domination is imminent!" )
posted by precocious at 1:47 PM on October 24, 2001


Oprah Winfrey spent $5mill on her own birthday party. She's a talk show host. She's been in a few rancid made-for-tv movies.

If that's someone you want to take reading list recommendations from, then more fool you.

I don't blame the guy, I wouldn't want to be associated with her either.
posted by daragh at 1:48 PM on October 24, 2001


Johnson: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:53 PM on October 24, 2001


I hate the attitude that the good and the popular must ever be at war

And yet, though not necessarily so, in reality they so often are....
posted by rushmc at 1:53 PM on October 24, 2001


Well, I can see his point of view - if you've created something, and you're proud of it, it would feel weird to have an advertisement for somebody else's creation stuck onto the front of it.

This is the first argument I've seen that actually carries much weight with me against the awfully compelling "seek the widest audience possible" argument. I can see resisting any further cobranding than the concessions you've made to get published already require.
posted by rushmc at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2001


Johnson: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money".

Johnson was a blockhead.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2001


I was unaware that Oprah's Book Club was designed to establish her as a literary guru

Oh, she's a "guru" of sorts with or without her book club - it's the way she been marketing herself for years (and, it seems, pulling it off).

Nor do I think Oprah's sitting around, rubbing her hands fiendishly together and saying, "Those brainless automatons have bought yet another of My Book Club Books. World domination is imminent!"

You just don't want to think it! ;-)
posted by alethe at 2:04 PM on October 24, 2001


it would feel weird to have an advertisement for somebody else's creation stuck onto the front of it

Would the National Book Award seal fall under this distinction? Or the Pulitzer seal? Or the Booker Prize? (sorry, belabored point)

I understand your point, but I'm not sure it holds entirely true here. What about the tagline "Now a Major Motion Picture from Paramount"? After all, the movie is the someone else's creation (provided the author didn't write the screenplay, produce and direct it). I think the "O" stickers can be inapropriately placed at times (the one on The Corrections is right in the fscking middle of the cover!), but I don't think the issue is Franzen's discomfort with the seal. It's with his discomfort with the fact that Oprah actually liked his book and is recommending it.
posted by arco at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2001


Johnson was a blockhead.

And yet his "Lives of the Poets" can be considered the model of celebrity endorsement for Oprah's book club, which was pretty smart.
posted by holgate at 2:23 PM on October 24, 2001


My discomfort: Oprah puts HERSELF on the cover of every issue of her magazine.

Also, "Dr. Phil," that damn self-help guy who is on Oprah's show at least once a week.
posted by conquistador at 2:25 PM on October 24, 2001


And yet his "Lives of the Poets" can be considered the model of celebrity endorsement for Oprah's book club, which was pretty smart.

holgate, I take your point, but only if that Johnson quote about only blockheads writing for no pay was never written (though I suppose he might have just said it, and then some other blockhead went and wrote it down) ....

;)
posted by mattpfeff at 2:46 PM on October 24, 2001


Would the National Book Award seal fall under this distinction? Or the Pulitzer seal? Or the Booker Prize? (sorry, belabored point)

It might, if the author didn't respect and value those awards. Some in this thread clearly don't respect and value the Nobel Prize, for example, and people have turned down Oscars and such in the past.

I, for one, would not feel comfortable with "Now a Major Motion Picture from Paramount" plastered on the cover of a book that I had written. I might allow it (assuming I had a choice in the matter) to increase book sales, but I would not like it. A movie is a very different thing than a book, and a film adaptation of a book often bears little resemblance to it. The book is mine; the movie is the work of scores of people or more, even if, through my book, I may be one of them. If I had wanted to write a movie, I would have written a screenplay. The only reason such taglines are put on a book's cover is to attempt to tap into the audience of those who read the book (or, conversely, to draw the viewers of the movie TO the book)--in other words, marketing.
posted by rushmc at 3:17 PM on October 24, 2001


Does it matter whether people come to your work with the "right" frame of mind, as long as they come?

I can't help wondering if Franzen's objection really is that he will lose credibility within a literary elite in which he is trying to build a career. A venal rather than a moral objection.

Another of my favourite quotations: "I cried all the way to the bank." (Liberace, I think).

Do you want to be Liberace, or Rubinstein? or Glen Gould?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:52 PM on October 24, 2001


mattpfeff: ah, well that blockhead was James Boswell, who was definitely more interested in the fame than the money.

But the comment reflects a wider truth: that writing has been a profession ever since it left the domain of patronage in the 18th century: in fact, Johnson thought that writing for money was more honourable, and less compromising, than writing for a patron. And there's the wider truth: the Oprah club is actually closer in character to old-style patronage than professionalism.
posted by holgate at 4:27 PM on October 24, 2001



I'm confused, holgate.

I thought patrons commissioned work to gain status through conspicious display of wealth and the author's toadying.

Oprah doesn't pay authors to write books, and they (esp Franzen, it seems) don't write with Oprah in mind. Increased sales through endorsement are an unlooked-for bonus.

Where's the parallel?

(Although when I think of that other great Johnson line, "Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern upon a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help", perhaps there is...)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:42 PM on October 24, 2001


Hmmm... if Franzen's apparent assumption that middle America reads Oprah's Book Club selections is correct, maybe someone should enlist Oprah to slap her logo on, say, Proust, Dostoevsky, Goethe....
*That* would make the world a better place.
posted by lizs at 7:09 PM on October 24, 2001


The Oprah Book Club is a tough thing. There are some real gems in her collection, but in general she picks depressing, well-written feminist fiction that tends to make me want to gag.

Agree. I have read a few of the first selections. Could not bring myself to finish most of them. They were depressing to me. I do watch Oprah, not generally on Tuesday(Dr. Phil day), I find most of her shows informative and mostly harmless entertainment.
posted by bjgeiger at 9:39 PM on October 24, 2001


maybe someone should enlist Oprah to slap her logo on, say, Proust, Dostoevsky, Goethe....

... Cardoso?


the Oprah club is actually closer in character to old-style patronage than professionalism (holgate)

Oprah doesn't pay authors to write books, and they (esp Franzen, it seems) don't write with Oprah in mind. Increased sales through endorsement are an unlooked-for bonus.

Where's the parallel?
(imjoespleen)

I think what holgate (who I hope forgives me for proferring my guess here) is saying here is simply that, some writers can make a better living by writing to Oprah's personal tastes (intentionally or not), than by writing to the free market. (And note the happy result that, if you follow the reasoning all the way through, such a writer would be a blockhead....)
posted by mattpfeff at 10:17 PM on October 24, 2001


maybe someone should enlist Oprah to slap her logo on, say, Proust, Dostoevsky, Goethe....

... Cardoso?


Nay, for apparently he has not seen fit to provide us with English translations!
posted by rushmc at 5:45 AM on October 25, 2001


::::rushmc::::

If you must laugh check out this googled translation of my German publisher's
press release for a novel of mine, out this week. Click on "the girl cemetery"(sic), lower left-hand corner, for the full effect. I won't tell you what the right translation should be as it would ruin the fun. And, more importantly...
*nudge,nudge*
Anyone think they could get a copy to Oprah? :-)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:14 AM on October 25, 2001


"MetaFilter: you that does not make not true for anything out?"

(And yes, splenetic one, I was thinking of just that Johnson line.)
posted by holgate at 7:33 AM on October 25, 2001


holgate: as I apparently say in my book, please: "is quiet and take away your arm there, you do to me pain!"
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:11 AM on October 25, 2001


I happen to think that that press release link above would deserve a front-page post even if I didn't know who MC was, but I don't have the guts to post it. Damn that is hilarious. And MC has some strong competition:

These poems kidnap the reader into a world from confusing colorfulness and wasteful sound volume.

Indeed. And:

The future belongs to the lap dogs. Liz Taylor and Rudolph MOS hammer recognized that early.


(this of course disturbing because it's so well translated, and yet so sinister....)
posted by mattpfeff at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2001


i have a new favorite term: low-sad!
posted by moz at 8:48 AM on October 25, 2001


I read an article in an author's market magazine about the Oprah effect. Scuttlebutt is that the Oprah effect is a net positive -- her fans are reading more and higher quality stuff than without the Oprah effect.

Sure, life would be better if we didn't need Oprah, but we don't live in that world.
posted by basilwhite at 8:55 AM on October 25, 2001


LOLOL

Sorry.

LOLOL
posted by rushmc at 12:49 PM on October 25, 2001


Back on topic: in Too Cool for Oprah Moby Lives' Dennis Loy Johnson declares: "It's official: Jonathan Franzen is a buffoon."
posted by Carol Anne at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2001


Hnnn. I think it *would* be a good idea for Oprah to do dead authors, before the split between highbrow and middlebrow got more pronounced. How about George Eliot? Why not Thomas Hardy?
posted by Charmian at 9:31 PM on October 25, 2001


From today's NYTimes:

'Oprah' Gaffe by Jonathan Franzen Draws Ire and Sales

Franzen apologies for calling his art "high" art, and other juicy tidbits.
posted by mattpfeff at 6:54 AM on October 29, 2001


And Franzen also has a piece in the New Yorker of 12/24-31/01, entitled Meet Me in St. Louis.

The relevant excerpt, toward the end:

From the bookstore I head straight for the airport. I'm due to take the evening's last flight to Chicago, where, in the morning, Alice and I will tape ninety minutes of interview for "Oprah." Earlier today, while I was doing my best to look contemplative for the camera, Winfrey publicly announced her selection of my book and praised it in terms that would have made me blush if I'd been lucky enough to hear them. One of my friends will report that Winfrey said the author had poured so much into the book that "he must not have a thought left in his head." This will prove to be an oddly apt description. Beginning the next night, in Chicago, I'll encounter two kinds of readers in signing lines and in interviews. One kind will say to me, essentially, "I like your book and I think it's wonderful that Oprah picked it," the other kind will say, "I like your book and I'm so sorry that Oprah picked it." And, because I'm a person who instantly acquires a Texas accent in Texas, I'll respond in kind to each kind of reader. When I talk to admirers of Winfrey, I'll experience a glow of gratitude and good will and agree that it's wonderful to see television expanding the audience for books. When I talk to detractors of Winfrey, I'll experience the bodily discomfort I felt when we were turning my father's oak tree into schmalz, and I'll complain about the Book Club logo. I'll get in trouble for this. I'll achieve unexpected sympathy for Dan Quayle when, in a moment of exhaustion in Oregon, I conflate "high modern" and "art fiction" and use the term "high art" to describe the importance of Proust and Kafka and Faulkner to my writing. I'll get in trouble for this, too. Winfrey will disinvite me from her show because I seem "conflicted." I'll be reviled from coast to coast by outraged populists. I'll be called a "motherfucker" by an anonymous source in New York, a "pompous prick" in Newsweek, an "ego-blinded snob" in the Boston Globe, and a "spoiled, whiny little brat" in the Chicago Tribune. I'll consider the possibility, and to some extent believe, that I am all of these things. I'll repent and explain and qualify, to little avail. My rash will fade as mysteriously as it blossomed; my sense of dividedness will only deepen.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:22 PM on December 20, 2001


Hey, thanks mattpfeff! All those other wimps whining over at MeTa "Oh, please sir, where do I post this, sir, I've got something I want to say and the thread isn't on the FP anymore, can I please please start a new one?" and you just go ahead, knowing full well how happy you'll make the true MeFi aficionados!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:42 PM on December 20, 2001


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