Posted by: Matt | June 19, 2007

Vitriol

OprahI try to keep things light and non-confrontational on my blog. Pardon this short departure. If you admire or respect Oprah please do not read the following.

I’ve seen a few mentions of Oprah’s book club lately, it is a topic of discussion over at BookBlog right now. I left a comment in response to Marydell’s statement that she does not, “…understand why there’s so much stigma attached to reading an Oprah selection. She moves books, which is a good thing, yet even those reading along with her are embarrassed.” My comment, which was quoted in her most recent post, was as follows, “I’ll also throw out why for me there is a stigma attached to reading and [sic] Oprah book. I feel like she is trying to be our savior, telling us what to think and what is good because we can’t possibly decide those things ourself. I can make my own decisions on what is good thank you very much.”

Yes, I typed “and” instead of “an”, I struggle with self editing… But my comment stands. I confess I am not much of a fan of Oprah. Many people defend her by listing all of the good that she has done: getting people to read, and setting up a school in Africa among other things. Call me cynical, but even with those things I take issue. She always appears rather condescending, she defended James Frey after his memoir was exposed as exaggerated and then invited him on her show and slid a knife neatly in his back. I found it rather disgusting.

Jonathan Franzen, who’s novel The Corrections was chosen as an Oprah book, was quoted as saying he didn’t want the Oprah sticker on his book and didn’t seem to care much that his book had been chosen. Oprah uninvited him from her show and he was trashed for his decision. I say good for him, I hope that I would have had the courage to do the same.

She has also endorsed the self help book The Secret, to which I won’t link. This book is a prime representation of the materialistic and shallow society in which we live.

I also take issue with her African school which has the appearance of doing so much good. Oprah is spending $40 million on the school, forty million dollars, one school. How many schools, normal schools, can that build in poverty stricken Africa, how many people can that feed?  What is wrong with building 400 (at $100,000, which is still generous) ordinary schools for both boys and girls.  Forty million dollars to promote elitism and classism.

So yes, I have a problem with Oprah, I realize that many of you don’t, and hope that you are not offended, but I will no longer feign indifference. I will continue to cringe when she chooses a book that I want to read, I will continue to look for books that do no have her sticker polluting the cover and I will continue to claim that I discovered a book before it became an Oprah selection (true, so far). I have tried to keep my mouth shut, my fingers away from the keyboard, but recent discussion has let loose this little diatribe.

If you would like to read a much better treatment of some of these themes I refer you to an article on Salon.com.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go cool off.

Image from Salon.com

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Responses

  1. Oops, I put my reply in the wrong place! Oh well. Read this article by James Randi http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-03/030207harpo.html.

    Love your blog!

  2. I tend to be of two minds about Oprah’s book club. Being a librarian, I see first hand the number of people who check out books because she’s endorsed them. I think it would be great if more people read just for reading’s sake but, since that seems to be rare, it’s nice that there are people out there making recommendations. Oprah is just one example.

    The fact is, she does pick good books. This summer’s pick (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides) is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s great that so many people will be reading it now. Still, I know what you mean. If I were to buy a copy of Middlesex right now I’d search high and low for one without her logo and, honestly, I’m strangely glad that I read it before I knew it was her pick! Is that a kind of intellectual elitism? Probably. I know exactly how you feel about Oprah. Still, our circ numbers increase pretty dramatically after she announces a book…and those people aren’t just checking her book (we don’t have THAT many copies). So, hurray for her getting people into the library.

  3. ah but no Kristin… you see the thing is that they read it because she endorses it. There’s an inevitable conclusion to what this creates in society: a book is only good if endorsed by someone who knows as much about literature as I do about hosting talk shows. But Arukiyomi, I hear you say, what makes your opinion about books any less valid than hers. This is true. You are right. And if her opinion is as valid as mine, take both with a pinch of salt and give me equal air-time!

    The literary world will not be saved by sheer volume of sales of a few bestsellers. It will and has been corrupted instead. You can only redeem the literary world from its commercial banality by speaking out against such practices, as Matt has done.

    But that’s not enough, we also have to foster reading amongst our families and friends, in our schools and communities if we’re going to see a literary revival. It’s not literacy we want to foster but rather literalacy among the literate, and to do that, we have to read widely and wisely.

    Fight the good fight….

  4. Meh, I don’t care much about Oprah one way or another. I think there are a whole lot of evils in this world worse than anything Oprah’s doing, though, and I save my anger for those.

  5. char44 – That story you link to reminds me of another show that Oprah did that really made a wonderful man look like a monster, but I won’t really talk about that here.

    Kristin – I can definitely see where you are coming from as a librarian. I’ve heard the same said about the Harry Potter series, that they get people reading, but I wonder if they just get people reading those books and nothing else. But again, people excited about reading is always a good thing.

    Arukiyomi – I can also see where you are coming from obviously. We do need to read more than just what is on the bestseller list, or what is endorsed by a pop-culture figure.

    Dewey – There are certainly evils more evil than Oprah, but I also think that she has encouraged ideas and people that are harming society.

  6. I kinda blow hot and cold about Oprah. After she brought James Frey back on and castigated him just to protect her “brand name”, I’m cold again.

  7. @ Dewey – hey what scale of evil are you measuring by 😉

  8. I can see both sides of the Oprah thing; she’s definitely gotten people reading again who hadn’t been. Having said that, I was a saddened to hear of her recent choice of Middlesex. I *adored* this book and somehow I’m feeling that it’s now devalued, that it’s just ‘an Oprah book’ and I hate that. And I will hate seeing it back on the bestseller shelves with those stickers all over it.

  9. Well….I kind of go both ways with Oprah. I loved when she brought out the Classics. Have many people would have picked up Anna Karenina or East of Eden otherwise? Then again, what she did to Frey was completely horrifying. His books stands today as one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Fact or embellishment aside.

    I disagree though about Frazen. I actually have read and like a lot of Oprah’s picks. I was pretty much offended by Franzen when he said If I read an Oprah book, I wouldn’t be smart enough to read his! And I did, even though I thought it was a prententious piece of garbage! INTERESTING topic!!

  10. I am also not an Oprah fan, but would have respected your response anyways. I do like that she encourages people to read, but she gets on my very last nerve.

  11. Bybee – It seems that many people were not impressed with her treatment of Frey.

    Tara – Middlesex is definitely back on display everywhere and with the Oprah sticker. Hopefully it will stay a sticker and not be printed on.

    Stephanie – Many people go both ways. I had not heard that Franzen made a statement like, which is definitely not something I would agree with. But I do stand by my statement that I would hope I would have the guts not to go on her show since I do not much care for her.

    Kelly – I’m glad you would have respected my response. I wonder if I was at time overly harsh, and hope that my post doesn’t sound like an immature rant.

  12. I’m with you, Matt. I can’t get over a feeling I get from Oprah that she can be very hypocritical. “The Secret” is a great example of the kind of trash that she can fall in love with, and like you, I was tickled to see an author finally tell her “no thanks” for her special love.

  13. Sam – What I’ve read about The Secret has disgusted me. As I mentioned in a previous comment, she has put stock in other things I find to be complete B.S., but which I didn’t mention in the post for my own reasons.

  14. I would just like to point out that, for Oprah, what she’s spending on the school is chump change.

    She was probably using techniques from The Secret to conjure up images of being bigger in Africa than Angelina Jolie, then felt something lumpy under her butt. Upon looking under the cushions of her custom Italian couch–handcrafted with leather tanned from the hides of the spryest milk-fed albino veal calves–there it was: $40 million.

    At first, Oprah thought about adopting 40 million African babies but decided against it because she might have trouble with U.S. child labor laws. Plus, Oprah can’t be outdone by Madonna, the slut who now owns the country of Malawi.

    A school was the best way to spend couch cushion money for three reasons: 1. do-good karma, 2. a building with Oprah’s name on it, and 3. indoctrinating disciples while they’re young. When those girls graduate, they’ll pour out across Africa to spread the gospel of Oprah, who will eventually go on to be canonized as a saint. Christians of the future will secure her eternal legacy by praying to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Oprah.

  15. I agree with you completely on this one. There have been times when I have heard of a book that I was interested in reading until I discovered Oprah was putting it on her list. At which time, I would have no further interest in reading it. I remember when , against my better judgement, I read “She’s Come Undone”. I was actually hoping that the character would commit suicide (when she was contemplating it) because the book was so awful that I just wanted it to be over. That was possibly that last Oprah recommend I have plodded through.

  16. marydell – I think your comment may be even more acidic than my post! 🙂 But can’t say I disagree with the sentiment.

    InsideThePages – I can understand your aversion to her picks after that experience. I have decided though, that if I really am interested in a book I won’t let her recommendation keep me from reading it. At least that’s what I’m saying right now…


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