Good Riddance to Oprah's Book Club, and Her Literary Amateurism
April 12, 2002 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Good Riddance to Oprah's Book Club, and Her Literary Amateurism Norah Vincent says Oprah's opinion in matters of literary taste is amateurish to say the least and she presumed where she should not have, and wouldn't want her sticker on his/hers book either.
Just for fun adds People who dislike Oprah's Book Club dislike it for the same reason that they dislike Barnes & Noble. The fact that the two do a brisk business isn't accidental, and the two represent the same pernicious homogenization of American life that makes existential despair all but unavoidable.
posted by Blake (53 comments total)
I grew in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the only options were Waldenbooks (bad) and B. Dalton's (worse) in the malls, and few used pulp-romance bookstores. If Barnes and Noble had come steamrolling into town, I’d have kissed their sidewalks and worked for free. “Charming neighborhood booksellers,” my eye! Where? Here in Milwaukee, Harry W. Schwartz is terrific, but if I need a graphic design book or magazine, I still have to go to B&N.
posted by mimi at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2002

also, previously discussed here.
posted by modge at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2002

I support any effort to get Americans to read more.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2002

Pompous? In a word-yes.
If you're reading for pleasure, what does it matter what you read? Literary amateurism? What the hell is that? I still read comic books on occasion, does this make me a bad person?
I don't understand all the anger directed at Oprah. Why don't these people have a beef with Reader's Digest?
Vincent should get her own show together to flog what she thinks makes a good read and leave Oprah the hell alone.
posted by black8 at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2002

I support any effort that Ty supports to get Americans to read more.
posted by UncleFes at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2002

"...the two represent the same pernicious homogenization of American life that makes existential despair all but unavoidable."

Quit crying. If you really want your small neighborhood bookstore, it shouldn't be hard to find one (there's tons of them in the Detroit metropolitan area, for example). If you don't like Oprah's favorite books, who cares? Read your own favorites, there's no shortage of esoteric writing in the world. Is Ms. Vincent really implying that the buying tastes of the general public is so overwhelming to her that the only resposne is "existential despair"? For me it's very easy: There are tons of people in the world who love Michael Bolton (or Kenny G, or N'Sync..)? Hmmm. I don't. Then I move on. Can't say I've ever felt any despair, existential or otherwise.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2002

I was feeling fine til you mentioned Michael Bolton... now I feel a giant pit opening up beneath me...
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2002

I'm with Mimi. Don't you people remember what it was like before chain bookstores? Let me remind you: The other day I was in a Borders in a strip mall outside small midwestern town where a large portion of the population is AMISH -- and let me tell you this, that bookstore is BETTER than the best bookstores in Manhattan (not counting the Strand) and Boston such as could be found through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It was better than legendary bookstores like Eighth Street Books, better than Colloseum Books, better than Gotham Books...
posted by Faze at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2002

Who buys books at a store nowadays, anyway? Pfui. Amazon delivers.
posted by UncleFes at 2:15 PM on April 12, 2002

I was feeling fine til you mentioned Michael Bolton... now I feel a giant pit opening up beneath me...

Oh can we be lovers if we can't be friends? ::sniff::
posted by ChrisTN at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2002

Behind the scenes at Oprah Cancels Book Club.
posted by Pinwheel at 2:18 PM on April 12, 2002

I support any effort that UncleFes supports to get Americans to read more.
posted by jazon at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2002

I still read comic books on occasion, does this make me a bad person?

i think it just makes you an amateur.

what do the pros read anyway?
posted by chrisege at 2:32 PM on April 12, 2002

I do not patronize Borders and Noble. I'm not sure that they are as predatory as some independent booksellers claim, but with a bunch of great bookstores in my town, why buy from a chain?

I don't care either way about Oprah's Book Club but my sense is that it did more harm than good, as is made reading "cool" for a segment of people who probably would not have read in the first place. Hopefully a lot of these people will continue reading on their own, to the good of themselves and society as a whole.
posted by Danf at 2:56 PM on April 12, 2002

Chain bookstores are the book lover's best friend. As Seen on MeFiTM
posted by NortonDC at 2:59 PM on April 12, 2002

I live in Seattle where we have nearly as many great used bookstores as we do espresso carts and I only go to Borders because they have a better blues CD selection than Tower, not for books. But I'm with Jonathan Richman on the whole Corner Store nostalgia anyway--less selection but oh, the humanity!

I think that Oprah is as at least as great a force for evil as she is for good. Plus you can't escape her now that she has that mug of hers plastered on every cover of her magazine which is in every magazine rack on every grocery checkout aisle in the country. I strongly favor celebrity sunset laws: after X amount of years, said celebrity is forced to convert to a Mennonite church, dress Amish and live without any media access in or out--Oprah should have to pay us to stay on tv. I demand group therapy rates by the hour for us all going back 7 years. Yeah, that's the ticket.
posted by y2karl at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2002

Why bother reading? If you have a busy life you need to read make believe stories. Or if you read non-fiction, why bother? Does it change anything? Bookstores are for stealing.
posted by Postroad at 3:06 PM on April 12, 2002

Amazon for me too, every time nearly. I like book stores, and there is a cool second hand book store about five miles from me, but I only browse really. If I know what I want, and I usually do, Amazon can play fetch for me.
posted by vbfg at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2002

The only bad bookstore is a closed bookstore. However, given two fully functioning bookstores right next to each other, if one's a Borders & Noble and one's locally owned, I'm going to the indie every time. Unless they don't have what I need in stock.

And about the Oprah thing, she provided a real service for people who had nobody else to get book recommendations from. If I'm in Pocatello Idaho, and the Internet's not part of my life, where am I supposed to get ideas of what's out there? Parade Magazine? Or should I mail off for The New York Review of Each Others' Books?

*last line cribbed from somebody on NPR
posted by luser at 3:26 PM on April 12, 2002

I still read comic books on occasion, does this make me a bad person?

i think it just makes you an amateur.


I've also read DeLillo, Nicholson Baker, Rushdie, Auster, Murakami, Calvino, Apollinaire & Yourgrau (to name a few).

Man, being a pro must be like, tough!
posted by black8 at 3:46 PM on April 12, 2002

Right on, black8. DeLillo is the man. One of the few modern authors i've felt inspired to read more than one piece by. Anyone like Will Self?
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:55 PM on April 12, 2002

My my...seems that feisty Nora whipped somepeople into a frenzy on this one. She skewers the literary "taste" of Oprah. Well, Nora. What have you been reading lately?

There's a bit too much whining by the complainants about Opah's Bookclub. Anyone who encourages anyone else to read more (or any!) has at least a benign social effect. Well written books help make a better society. Professional reporting helps build justice and democracy.

Marketing clout the size of Oprah's might be the issue. Again, so what? Suffice it to say, Lady O is not pimping the latest management guru or zany creative writers. The spotlight is on the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison...and yes, even Johnathan Franzen.

Oprah is like a great librarian who knows a lot of people, and just tells you what she likes to read these days. Her program centers in spiritual themes. Hardly a "mass" meme.

And anyway, is this the best we can do for (the only) national media figure willing to tell the truth about "mad cow" disease and triumph in a Texas (!) court over the beef industry's objections?

Yeah. Lighten up.
posted by goodhelp at 3:58 PM on April 12, 2002

I prefer Borders to Barnes & Noble for the wider selection, particularly in their business section. Indies are fun too but where I grew up, they were hard to come by so when Borders came to town, I was there two nights a week.

Of course, I'm living in Oregon now and Powell's, which takes up a whole city block, is my favorite. Too far away and hard to find parking there on weekends, so it's saved for special occasions with the wifey or nephew. The twice weekly ritual with my iBook is still reserved for Borders.
posted by Tacodog at 4:01 PM on April 12, 2002

Black8 thinks he's all that with his fancy book-learnin'.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:02 PM on April 12, 2002

DeLillos' the man, im still blown away by 'Libra'. a great screenplay was written and o. Stone came along and made his...little...skit. 'Libra' was dumped. perhaps someone will pick it back up.
posted by clavdivs at 4:02 PM on April 12, 2002

what do the pros read anyway?
posted by Ty Webb at 4:08 PM on April 12, 2002

Delillo's good clavdivus, no doubt, but he's no David Foster Wallace, author of the Best. Book. Ever.
posted by jonmc at 4:22 PM on April 12, 2002

...and I read comic books all the time, they can be just as artistically valid as "real" books they're just different in that they're using different tools to the same end. The work of Peter Bagge and Adrian Tomine, just to name a few is as good or better than the work of most contemporary novelists.
posted by jonmc at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2002

One more vote for "anything that gets people reading is a good thing". Also, I've read Mr. Franzen's book and he's no Proust. It's a good read but it doesn't warrant him giving himself such airs. He's not too good for us proles, however much he'd like to think so.
posted by CINDERELLEN at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2002

1. I'm living in a village in upstate NY (pop. 6,000 +, I think). We have one indie bookstore, which is not too bad, but I don't often find anything I want to read there. When I was in Chicago, I had a similar problem with some of the "cult" downtown indies, now defunct. Why am I supposed to patronize a bookstore that rarely stocks books of interest to me?

2. J'adore B&N and Borders, especially the "big" ones, when I'm looking for good contemporary fiction. I really don't feel like putting in a special order when the point is getting a book to read now.

3. When in Chicago, however, do as the Chicagoans do and go to the Seminary Co-Op. (Or 57th Street Books.)

4. In any event, the several thousand dollars I spend on books per annum mostly goes to second-hand bookstores, so I do my share of "support the indies" after all, I suppose.

5. Vincent's literary history is simply hogwash. Popular eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Anglo-American writing (fiction and non-) often is assembly-line garbage--what Victorian critics called "book-making." And plagiarism was a mainstay of a remarkable number of literary livelihoods, some eminent (most famously Coleridge) and some not. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, which involved a considerable amount of what we now call "dreck," I used to amuse myself by tracking which sentences and chapters got plagiarized on a regular basis (often across several decades). Literature has been "commodified" since a) literacy spread across classes and to both sexes, b) inventors figured out how to make cheap paper and mechanical printing presses, and c) both transportation and communication networks became more efficient. The Victorians, who also pioneered the 19th c. version of "airplane reading" ("railway novels" and magazines like The Strand) were really the point of no return.

So let's not blame poor B&N. Or Oprah.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:34 PM on April 12, 2002

Doesn't anyone go to the library anymore?
posted by dobbs at 4:42 PM on April 12, 2002

Regardless of O.'s literary discrimination or presumption thereof, her effect upon the public is inherently pernicious in that celebrity approval should never be the benchmark of artistic achievment. ie E. Pound's Nazi endorsement.
posted by malwilde at 4:57 PM on April 12, 2002

Apologies to Pound fans, I guess it was the Fascists.
posted by malwilde at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2002

1. Snobbery is a fool's game. I'll bet that for every book Vincent has read in the last year, I could find an "intellectual" who would turn his nose up at it.

2. I can't find it on Google now, but I read a great article on the net about how "middlebrow" art is a bridge between highbrow and lowbrow. Some of the people who start out with Oprah's recommendations will move on to even better stuff. I know that happened for me in both books and music. If I hadn't grown up with a family who took me to Classical Pops concerts, I might never have discovered the riches of Dufay or Shostakovich.

When people disparage middlebrow art and act as if only high culture or low culture can be cool, they deny people important stepping stones toward appreciating the classics.

The fact that most Oprah Book Club members will never move on to anything better is irrelevant. It's not like they all would have subscribed to the New Yorker if Oprah hadn't been there.
posted by straight at 5:13 PM on April 12, 2002

Also, when Oprah drives book sales up, the publishers have more money to publish marginal sellers. All readers would suffer if it weren't for all the big best-sellers like Clancy, King, etc.
posted by straight at 5:16 PM on April 12, 2002

norah vincent: the ann coulter it's okay to link to.

seriously, though. reading her poorly-conceived and hackneyed op-ed columns makes me wonder what she's been reading lately, if she's been reading at all.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:26 PM on April 12, 2002

Yet another "anything that gets people reading is good" vote here. I can't quite put my finger on what the difference is between people who read a decent book once in a while and people who don't, but there certainly seems to be one (if only they'd all read Iain (M.) Banks, the world would be a better place).

Oprah's recommendations might not be everyone's idea of great literature, but reasonably intelligent and well-written books certainly seem to predominate. I was lucky enough to grow up in a very pro-reading family, as, I suspect, many of Oprah's harshest critics did. But if all your family and friends read was Cosmo or Harlequin Romances, I suspect you'd be grateful for recommendations for something different from someone whose opinion you felt you could trust. If someone happened to be introduced to books more challenging than trashy novels by Oprah, how can anyone possibly say that's a bad thing?
posted by biscotti at 5:40 PM on April 12, 2002

One more vote for "anything that gets people reading is a good thing". I'd suggest Half-Priced Books for an alternative to Borders.
posted by sadie01221975 at 5:40 PM on April 12, 2002

I think people reading anything is good. Cereal boxes, street signs, the email that I send them, sure. I also think society benefits from a diversity of opinions.

Over in librarian-land there's a debate about those "what if everyone read the same book?" movements. Good or bad? Is it good that more people read To Kill A Mockingbird who wouldn't be reading, or bad because people who might read stuff that was more to their tastes are caught up in some marketing frenzy with chocolate bar product marketing tie-ins?

Semes that Oprah's finding out what a lot of folks who maintain websites, write columns or do any sort of media work that comes out regularly already knew -- quality content is hard to maintain over time. Or maybe she's tired of it. If you miss it, you can always sign the petition [thanks you working assets phone people for funding this]
posted by jessamyn at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2002

jessamyn: I think those movements are good, not least because it might encourage people to actually talk to other people, since it gives them a ready-made icebreaker. Given that many people only read "classics" when forced to in school (a sure-fire way to make you hate good books, IME), why not encourage people to read them outside of a school context, especially since it might make picking up other classics easier?
posted by biscotti at 6:03 PM on April 12, 2002

The Today Show is adopting Oprah's Book Club idea and putting an interesting slant on it; once a month a bestselling author will recommend and review a book by an unknown on the show, segments slotted to start in June. I wonder if book recommendations will be any more palatable coming from established authors on The Today Show, because I do think any Book Club is a wonderful idea. I read two of the books that Oprah recommended and they were just absolutely god-awful. It pains me to think of them to this day.
posted by iconomy at 6:12 PM on April 12, 2002

Aye, jesamyn, many good people would agree with you - "people reading anything is good" - the USA Today link was especially enlightening! I particularly recommend Dahmer's (much anticipated and soon to be released) "How to" effort; or better yet " The Separatist's Guide to Home Bunker Construction" sure to be a bestseller with the 'functional paranoiac' set. Sincerely apolegetic about the heavy handed sarcasm - just too much RATM and Moose Ale. Always skeptical about anyone thinking better books make better people.
posted by malwilde at 6:22 PM on April 12, 2002

As a former bookstore clerk at one of the big, evil chains, I have kind of a mixed opinion on the whole Oprah Book Club phenomenon.
Sure, the picks are not exactly daring, but like everyone else has said whatever gets people reading is good. I actually kinds hoped she'd reccomend Naked Lunch or something just to see how it would go over.
Back when I was clerking, we used to make fun of the people who bought best-sellers only, assuming they were idiots. After a while I realized what a bunch of insufferable snobs we were. After that I tried to take the "if you like that you'll love this" approach which actually seemed to work.
So maybe we're underestimating Oprah's audience. Hell, mrs.jonmc has an MFA in Creative Writing and has led book groups on her own and she watches Oprah daily. She can't be the only literary Opraphite.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on April 12, 2002

Say what you want about the current state of literature, popular, "intelligent" or snobbish. But Oprah's Book Club did help to boost sales for the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates and other authors that the American public may never have even bothered perusing had not they come from Oprah's mouth. Sure, there was always a dullard like Wally Lamb inevitably creeping onto the list. But while Oprah may not have been a T.S. Eliot, are we to condemn Dave Eggers for the same reason because he allies himself with Jonathan Lethem and Rick Moody? For that matter, are we to condemn prose wonders like Ian McEwan because Atonement has made its way onto the New York Times bestseller list?

Since the dawn of humankind, it's been fashionable to slam anything that blurs the line between art and commerce. This article is no exception in both its easy targeting and prosaic points. Oprah was not the first and certainly won't be the last non-literary spokesman used to hawk a novel. Or have we forgotten already that Ian Fleming's James Bond became known and read because John F. Kennedy read it? Now riddle me this. Is a world with James Bond such a bad thing?

Oprah certainly had a sizable command on the literary marketplace. But I can't find it within my heart to condemn her for the Book Club because she never once hawked Danielle Steele, John Grisham or Tom Clancy. I don't believe, as the L.A. Times article suggests, that Oprah went out of her way to "homogenize" the industry. She consciously sought out titles that were, in her view, a little off the beaten track. Even if the track in question generally involved novels featuring suburban domestic squabbles, that she used her television power to encourage her viewers to read was an atypical and unprecedented thing, possibly one of the last gestures of its type that we may ever see.

I also don't buy the article's idea that B&N or the Book Club are homogenizing the industry. Today's book buyers, whether browsing in Barnes & Noble or ordering a book published through small press through Amazon, have more book options available through them than they did twenty years ago. Despite technological innovations, despite the promise of the e-book, books continue to sell. While personally I'm more inclined to buy a book from Powell's or City Lights, you will often find arcane books in the B&N stacks that twenty years ago were an impossibility to find. Many long-neglected authors, in fact, such as Philip K. Dick (it was damned impossible to find Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said back in 1986 until Vintage re-released all of Dick's novels in one fell swoop) and Paula Fox have, thanks to the demands of the book market and certain championing from bestselling authors, found a second life on the shelves. The capacious confines of the many B&Ns that proliferated the nation had to be filled up by something other than the unholy trinity of Grisham, Clancy and Steele, in order for the monolithic chain to subsist. The reading public demanded it. The publishing industry provided. And Oprah filled a certain niche to help the literary neophyte leap into the pool. Literature, ever since, has never been the same. When Cold Mountain was a literary find by a select few, who would have thought that it would become a runaway success on its own merits and that Charles Frazier would get an $11 million advance for his second novel?

As for comic books being the mark of an amateurish reader, any broad generalizer making this claim can be drowned in the Hudson River in full view of the New York City publishing magnates for all I care. Looking on my bookshelf, I can see that next to my Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Daniel Clowes, I have volumes of Gaddis, Barthelmie, Boyle and Solzhenitsyn. And I've enjoyed every one of them.
posted by ed at 7:03 PM on April 12, 2002

you will often find arcane books in the B&N stacks that twenty years ago were an impossibility to find. Many long-neglected authors, in fact, such as Philip K. Dick (it was damned impossible to find Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said back in 1986 until Vintage re-released all of Dick's novels in one fell swoop)...

Absolutely. I used to scour used book stores and come up empty and then one afternoon at B&N they were all there. Shiny new covers and bright white paper. It was great but it kinda took the fun away. I'm pretty impressed with the books available through these chains, although I twinge when I say that. I once had to choose between four different works by an obscure French postmodernist, when I had expected to find one at best.
posted by Dean King at 7:25 PM on April 12, 2002

I cite Frank Miller's Dark Knight and Neil Gaiman's Sandman series as examples of graphic novels which are far from amateurish. The earliest works of Lee & Kirby are modern classics. I've read the earliest works of Siegel & Shuster, and while primitive, they led to a modern cultural icon. Anyone who dismisses comic books does the same to all contemporary literature. There are those who dismiss the works of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. They too are fools.

Should we dismiss Disney's films because they are childish and diluted reproductions of classic tales, powerful music and historical biographies? Snow White? Fantasia? Pocohantas? The Hunchback from Notre Dame? ...okay maybe we could dismiss some of them...

History will remember Oprah Winfrey's efforts. Whether she will be remembered fondly or dismissively is uncertain. We can only speculate. Personally I can only say that she's done her best to use her little soap box in a way that is beneficial to others, and she has been rewarded handsomely for her efforts. Any negative criticism of her which I have heard or read, reads like little more than sour grapes and envy.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:12 PM on April 12, 2002

sumbody mention...Naked Lunch. "ie E. Pound's Nazi endorsement." The faschists did not lure him. he was famous whilst these faschist leaders were dodging commies and aping government with shiny gangsters suits, hell, even before "Apologies to Pound fans, I guess it was the Fascists." why apologize for a man whose 'public endorsement' is similar to Oprahs in the context of....what...widespread? Pound made anti-american/anti-semetic broadcasts ala lord ha-ha with some half-baked economics and Yeats old keel stuck in his gullet. Oprah is oprah. use another example. you give pound and oprah a bad light. Please read 'Poetry and Opinon" by Macleish, Pultizer winner for drama, 1950. (which ain't as strong a prize by all the clammering i hear.)
you have a good point jonmc, Pounds..."Disney against the metaphyisicals" line will stop any gunslinger in his tracks. The use of color, the image, simplicity?...thats up to the style. Some could call it crude propaganda or sublime meaning...for instance, at railroad stops, i watch the cars (rail) go by, all going to canada, tagged (grafetti) by canadians. Some of it is real art. but what is the art, the car clacking by? or (me) watching it? all and none i suppose. but what becomes anti-art is the subversion Is Oprah pumping millions into the coffers of the publishers? Is she a pawn in the "dumming down" of america. come on, shes oprah. Shes done alot to help people, if only by money she gives. I guess nobodies immune. Well, nobody is indefensible.
posted by clavdivs at 8:25 PM on April 12, 2002

Where I grew up, the best bookstore in town was the Safeway. Now I live in a city that has several book stores, but the one I go to is B&N. Well lit, with wide aisles, easy chairs, and COFFEE (sort of). What's not to love? Every trip to the mall has an hour or two pencilled in for browsing. Then I get on the web and order the book from my local library.
posted by faceonmars at 8:25 PM on April 12, 2002

O is for the Other Things She Gave Me: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Contemporary Women’s Fiction - Jane Elliott in Bitch Magazine
As Franzen himself pointed out when he admitted that Oprah had picked “some good books,” the Oprah list is neither as middlebrow as its detractors would have it, nor as unfailingly invested in bringing quality to the mainstream as its supporters often claim. Despite the widespread perception of Oprah books as spoon-fed schmaltz, many of the novels Oprah has chosen—like Edwidge Danticat’s Breath Eyes Memory and Joyce Carol Oates’s When We Were Mulvaneys—invite the same sort of thoughtful reading Franzen seemed to desire from his audience. But because it draws unapologetically on one person’s taste, the Oprah list doesn’t reflect a consistent standard of literary merit. Rather, it records exactly the sort of meandering path many habitual readers take through the landscape of the literary, dipping into the comfort of Maeve Binchy’s Tara Road one day and stretching to accommodate the difficulty of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye the next. And just because the same person reads both Binchy and Morrison doesn’t mean she reads them both for the same reason or suffers from any confusion about their relative merits. Just as the presence of male writers on Oprah’s list often gets erased, many critics ignored these quality variations as well, lumping her choices into the general category of what one commentator called “earnest, womanly fiction.” As the pejorative use of the word “womanly” suggests, these generalizations rely on assumptions about literary quality that are close at hand—namely, the longstanding association of female writers, “feminine” forms, and middlebrow status.
posted by sudama at 9:18 PM on April 12, 2002 [1 favorite]

jonmc: I totally agree with you on the awesomeness of Infinite Jest, certainly one of the greatest 20th-century novels. It just blows Underworld away.

I must admit, however, that Wallace's output since Jest has been spotty. My favorite of his latter-day pieces is probably "Mr. Squishy," which he published pseudonymously (in McSweeney's).
posted by macrone at 2:06 PM on April 13, 2002

Infinite Jest turned me off about 150 pages in--far too precious for sci-fi. I might give it another go.
posted by NortonDC at 2:22 PM on April 13, 2002

"Some of the people who start out with Oprah's recommendations will move on to even better stuff."

You make Oprah sound like a peddler of soft drugs :)

I don't have a problem with a book club, any book club. Even though I'm not an Oprah fan, she runs (or did run) a book club, and that's fine. I see that as a purely positive thing.

Somewhere though this weird marketing thing happened. Looking at the books that Oprah chooses, some of them at first glance seemed to belong more to her than to the authors. I think writers should be able to exercise a choice as to whether they want their books branded in that way.

I'm sure any writer is really pleased when their book is chosen for any book club. I think what some of them had a problem with is the kind of branding that occurred on their books.

"Oprah is like a great librarian who knows a lot of people..."

I don't really agree with that analogy. I have known some great librarians, who have been really helpful in helping me find what I wanted to read. I feel if I had just read what they had enjoyed themselves, some of the fun and adventure would have been taken out of things. What was important is that they helped me find the sort of stuff that I wanted to read, even if the didn't enjoy that particular writer/book personally.
posted by lucien at 3:13 PM on April 13, 2002

(it was damned impossible to find Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said back in 1986 until Vintage re-released all of Dick's novels in one fell swoop)...

Didn't happen. Russ Galen (Dick's agent and I think literary executor) polled a bunch of people (I know this because I was one) about which SIX Dick novels they thought should go back in print, because Vintage was interested in possibly trying a limited rerelease. Those six crept back into print over a period of time, and their success (and the success of the Collected Stories volumes) that kept Vintage at it. (I know, side issue--I agree with the larger point.)
posted by rodii at 4:10 PM on April 13, 2002

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