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.|