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Black Lamb


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Think again, Oprah!

I'll take over

June 1st, 2016


She can’t find a book a month. That’s what she says, can’t find a single book each month that floats her boat, that makes her quivery enough to bump its sales by a googol or two. The publishing world goes into a tizzy and the Today Show steps in to plug the hole. Great, just what we need, Al Roker reading his own schmaltzy parenting guides and Katie recommending bios of “important women.”

Oprah is a gazillionaire and can do pretty much anything she wants, but something just doesn’t add up here. Could that Jonathan Franzen mess have soured her on the whole picnic? Is she simply too busy to read anything but bank statements and thank-you notes from Dr. “I’m-as-famous-as-you-are-now” Phil? Or did Halle Berry’s lachrymal Oscar win persuade Ms. Winfrey to give acting another try, thinking to erase the stench of Beloved?

She doesn’t find enough books she feels “absolutely compelled to share.”

Oprah is myopic. Just in the last month I felt compelled to share The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, Grannyman, On Writing, and Crazy Time. Oprah, there are enough great books out there to justify picking one an hour, even if you did insist on keeping your library closed to nonfiction and even if you decreed all the anointed books had to be novels. You say you can’t find books to which you can give your “heartfelt recommendation”? Have you read Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You? What about Ethan Canin’s astonishing Emperor of the Air or Joanne Greenberg’s With the Snow Queen?

Of course, if Oprah opened the door wider, she could embrace biographies, historical tomes, essay collections, and poetry. And if she aimed her bifocals at a spot outside the contemporary milieu, she could pull in Welty and Steinbeck and Ellison and Fitzgerald and Eliot and Camus and Orwell and Aristotle. So now her viewers won’t read, except to ingest TV Guide and whatever magazine happens to be open on the table at the dentist’s office. Oh sure, they might look for Jane Hamilton’s latest, or pray that Maya Angelou writes (god help us) yet another, or hover in the “Smiley” section at the bookstore, or buy the sequel to The Rules. But otherwise….

I like Oprah, and I sympathize with whatever emotional or cognitive spasm compelled her to 86 her book club. So I’m ready to retrieve her discarded gauntlet, to fill the void. I will assume leadership of Oprah’s book club, and Ms. Forbes Top 10 won’t recognize it. We won’t sit at a perfectly appointed dining table with crystal glasses and faux-shiny oranges in a celadon bowl. We’ll sit on the floor. And we won’t read just novels about people (read: women, at least ninety percent of the time) transformed by trauma. In fact, we’ll read Woody Allen and Steve Allen, Doctor Spock and Dr. Seuss, Douglas Adams and Douglas MacArthur, Stephen Hawking and Stephen King. We’ll read Friedan and Bettelheim and Cousteau and Asimov and Orwell and Frost and Vonnegut, and then we’ll read Curious George Goes to a Baseball Game, after which we’ll try a little Seinlanguage, some Sartre, and a few Incredible Hulk comics. We’ll read science books, Greek mythology, medical texts, National Geographic, a yoga guide, a carpentry manual, and a Japanese phrase book. We’ll read Gray’s Anatomy (how much do you know about the corpus callosum, Oprah?). We’ll read kids’ books and self-help books and depressing books and funny books and poignant books and love stories and Audubon guides. We’ll get Oreo crumbs on the pages as we “compare and discuss,” and we won’t require each author to accept the imprimatur on the book cover; heck, they won’t even have to go on TV, because I don’t have a show!

But we’ll be reading, Oprah, and loving it. Because that’s what it’s about. Words: vibrant, delicious, transporting words, fiction and non, scholarly and pedestrian. Remember when Oprah signed a contract to write a book and then backed down, saying she had more life to live? Rank cowardice! I say, let her write it, and my book club will read it. We’ll read it the same week we’re reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis, see how they match up.

Oprah wanted to launch a reading movement that would galvanize the country, that would get people reading in the morning, in the evening, in grocery lines and airport queues. And for a time she did that — a laudable effort even though they were digesting only what a media personality spoon-fed them. Now they won’t even go to the trough.

No books worthy of “heartfelt recommendation”? You’ll have to do better than that, Oprah.

I just took inventory and there are, literally, millions. •

From the May 2008 issue.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Browning | Link to this Entry


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