Friday, June 24, 2011

Spin Cycle - Books

This week's Spin Cycle is about books.  Sigh, books.  I could go on for days about my favorites, or my least favorites, or the "canon", or why I no longer feel the need to read because someone tells me it's one of the greatest books ever written.  Instead, I'm going where no other Spinner dare go.  Oprah.

I'm am here to tell you that Oprah and her book club are one of the best things that ever happened to the written word.  I know this because I experienced wonderful things that resulted from her book shows, first hand.

Oprah started her book club in 1996 (yes, 15 years ago!)  Her first recommendation was, The Deep End of the Ocean, by Mitchard. I had just gotten out of college, and it was discounted, so I read it.  Was it life changing?  I was 21 and didn't have a real job, fortune cookies were life changing.  I thought it was, but clearly I wasn't a great judge at the time.  Since the first one was good, though, I stuck with her recommendations.

In the fall of 1998 I started at the book store.  No one there respected Oprah or her book club.  Who were these people she recommended?  We were book snobs.  Oprah would announce her pick and hundreds (I kid you not) of housewives would rush in that evening, kids in tow, to snatch it off the shelves.  They formed clubs so that they could be motivated to read it before the next one came out.  They sat on the comfy chairs in the afternoon and made a treat of talking to their friends about the Oprah pick.  All the while the "book sellers" sneered behind the stacks.  And I read on.  Just because I liked them.  All of them.  I wasn't ashamed.  These were good books.  Some of them I had read before in my college lit classes.  Clearly, Oprah wasn't expecting her viewers to simply suck down trashy romance novels.  She wanted them to be exposed to good literature.  When the ladies would come to the information desk and sigh because it was a thick book, I would encourage them.  When they came to get the next recommendation, we'd talk about last one.  And it never occurred to me then to think past the the meaning of the book to the bigger meaning of what Oprah's club was doing.

Oprah encouraged women of all generations to do something many of them hadn't done since high school (and some had never done at all).  Read.  For pleasure.  Take a few minutes of their day to sit and enjoy a book.  Resist the urge to just flip on the TV or the radio or grab a magazine and be mindless.  Just you and the author for a little while.   She eventually started putting her own book club questions at the back to help people think about the themes and characters.  What she was doing was giving people an opportunity that they might not otherwise take during the day.  A little time for themselves that wasn't "wasted".  They were educating themselves and they didn't even know it.  Look at Oprah, sneaking vegetables into the Spaghetti -o's.

I know people have their own opinion of Oprah, and I do too.  She tended to encourage some controversial opinions (Jenny McCarthy?  Suzanne Sommers?) but on this one I think she got it right.  Say what you will about her, but Oprah got millions of people off the couch and into the library and the bookstore, so she's alright in my book. 

(oh, and if you're wondering what I'm reading?  I finished re-reading Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo and I'm about to start my summer of trashy romance novels.  I have a rule that no serious books cross my path between 4th of July and Labor Day!  Nora Roberts here I come.)

LG and his cousin Rach doing some reading.


Jan said...

I'm reading Unfamiliar Fishes and Dances With Wolves while occasionally picking at Paul Johnson's The History of Christianity.

Hmmm...and Beloved wonders why it takes me so long to finish reading anything. Maybe I'll adopt your summer reading schedule, too.

Sprite's Keeper said...

Reading Nora Roberts "Chasing Fire" right now. It's good. That's all you're getting out of me. :-)
You're linked! And I love the way you Spin it!

VandyJ said...

I look at summer as the time when I read the fun books--Cussler adventure, Rollins adventure,trashy romance by several authors--really anything that catches my eye.
As long as I reading something, I'm happy!

Kate said...

I love trashy books...especially romance in the summer (or fall, spring, or winter). I have never gotten into Nora Roberts though...maybe I'll give her another try. I have mixed feelings about Oprah, but anything that makes people read is great by me. I had a friend who never read...I can't imagine a day without reading much less a life!

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to read anything, really. Have got several going right now.

I do appreciate that Oprah has made it cool to read. Some of her picks were way off, but that's ok with me. I've been loading up on my summer books all week. So. Much. Fun.

gretchen said...

You know, I think you're right about Oprah. I always kind of avoided reading her recommendations when she first made them (I'm stubborn that way), but then reading them a year later! But I love that she got people reading. And I love that she eventually got into classics too. That Oprah is pretty smart.

Frogs in my formula said...

What a great post. I miss spending entire days reading.


My dream is to have an office with four walls of books. Who needs paint?

And holy hooters, you made me see Oprah in a different light.