Some writers have kneeled down in front of you and asked you to kiss their rings. They have implored you to revive the Oprah Book Club that many book lovers grew to tolerate in much the same way that a seven year old contends with lima beans. That is to say with obscene crying, childish temper tantrums, and an order from flatmates to go to their rooms without supper. Clearly, a woman of your intelligence can understand that this is not how grown adults should react to books.
A cursory examination of the signatures reveals that nearly all of these writers are midlisters hoping for a big break.
That’s certainly their right. The publishing industry is often a ruthless and backbreaking milieu. And many of these talented writers should be granted ample compensation and greater sales for the work they put out.
But with nearly every selection you picked, your book club championed safe middlebrow titles that avoided the realities of life and were largely devoid of literary experimentation. They soothed rather than provoked. They spoon-fed readers instead of challenging them. While that might go down well over coffee and pastries in a New Hampshire suburban home, if people are going to throw down their hard-earned money for a book they’ll never read, certainly their money should be siphoned off to people like David Markson, Kazuo Ishiguro, William T. Vollman, Stephen Dixon, Jeanette Winterson, A.L. Kennedy or Gilbert Sorrentino.
So I beg you, if you have any sense of decency at all, not to revive your book club.
While your intentions were certainly noble, let’s face the facts. You gave idiot novelists like Wally Lamb careers. You gave exposure to the likes of Jonathan Franzen. While I don’t hate Franzen’s novels as strenuously as some, it is now impossible for any eager reader to open up an issue of the New Yorker without stumbling upon one of Franzen’s whiny male menopause essays. Likewise, Barbara Kingsolver might never have been allowed to put out a book of essays laden with generalizations, had not The Poisonwood Bible been named an OBC book choice. In fact, it might just be possible that you’ve turned more novelists into essayists because of your book club. Which seems a contrary notion to the purpose of promoting fiction.
Without your imprimatur, I think it’s safe to say that White Oleander wouldn’t have been turned into a silly movie. And Toni Morrison, Oprah? Morrison won a Nobel in 1993. She didn’t need your help. Where were you for Octavia Butler? Or Sheneska Jackson? Or Ann Petry? Or Dorothy West, who was the last surviving Harlem Renaissance writer?
While I realize that you have a lovable and tightly controlled image to promulgate to your viewers, has it ever occurred to you to shake things up by suggesting a book that might challenge them? I think we can both agree that not even you, Oprah, would go that far.
So please stick with these cute little classics (Anna Karenina, One Hundred Years of Solitude, et al.) that anyone even remotely familiar with literature has read already. If Americans want to have their books, their life choices and their day-to-day life programmed by you and that smug Dr. Phil guy, then clearly they need you to help them grope along the hard passageway of life.
Besides, dull Oprah-style books like The Kite Runner and The Red Tent seem to be selling like hotcakes and being selected for book clubs regardless of your input. Is it possible, Oprah, that your services are no longer requried?
Very truly yours,