Damn you Oprah Winfrey and your book club!

This blog installment is going to toe the line on media criticism, but I feel like I need to get something off my chest that has been weighing me down for quite some time.

Damn you Oprah Winfrey and your book club!

(Insert big sigh here.)

I am what one would call a ‘bookworm.’ I have always loved to read and I do so voraciously. When I found out I had to buy 14 books for my first semester at NYU the pain in my wallet was balanced by the joy in my heart.

I am ill at ease with Oprah’s Book Club. On one hand I think it’s great that she is getting people to read all these fantastic books. What she chooses to endorse is, in my mind, worth while reading. No Harry Potter here.

But at the same time, when I see such books that I have enjoyed reading to the nth degree become part of Oprah’s Book Club I wince. I’m proud of my “un-Oprah-ed copies of “She’s Come Undone,” “One Hundred Years of Solitude” “White Oleander,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” ”Anna Karenina” and now “A Million Little Pieces.” Once that little Oprah logo is stamped on there it’s tainted, Americanized. There’s even a literary criticism book out there called “Reading Oprah: How Oprah’s Book Club Changed the way America Reads.”

Perhaps I’m being a snob. I should look at what Oprah is doing as a good thing – she is getting people to read good books after all. Perhaps I take too much pride in choosing good books to read. Oprah’s corned the market on so many other things – can’t she just let me recommend my favorite books to my friends before they start flying off the shelves?

Gawker even noticed some strange types reading James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” and thought it was odd.

“We saw the weirdest thing the other night: Waiting for the 6 train at Grand Central, there was this middle-aged woman — we’d describe her as, um, secretarial — with her face shoved in a book. That book? James Frey’s vomit-soaked rehab memoir A Million Little Pieces.

We didn’t quite believe what we saw; this woman was, after all, sporting a nicely teased helmet head and conservative Easy Spirit flats. She didn’t really seem like the type who’d engage in recreational reading about crack-cocaine and “the fury.” So we looked a little more closely, crazy subway-stalkers that we are, and upon further inspection it was all suddenly clear: This woman wasn’t just reading A Million Little Pieces. She was reading the Oprah’s Book Club copy of it.

Seriously, we can’t wait until Oprah recommends some Hunter S. Thompson.”

Reading the comments on the Gawker site made me feel a little less depressed knowing there are others out there who feel the same way.

I suppose if I can continue to stay one step ahead of Oprah and her book club everything will be fine. I’m sure her next book will be “We Are All The Same” by Jim Wooten. Any bets?

willemmarx @ November 5, 2005 - 3:00pm

Rather pedantic though this might sound, it seems that you are actually NOT toeing the line with this blog. To, "toe the line," means to conform to the standard rules, follow the usual path etc. That is, unless you see this blog as media criticism (i.e. that it conforms to the standard rules), in which case you ARE toeing the line, I'm not sure that your choice of phrase is appropriate. Especially as the following word, "but," seems to imply that you are, in fact, intending to, "go against the grain," in what follows. Or have I misunderstood?

Kirsten Vala @ November 5, 2005 - 4:54pm

I’ve always found “toe the line” an interesting figure of speech. According to World Wide Words, the phrase probably originated from the British Navy, meaning for men to stand with their toes on a line or crack to form a straight line. But, the meaning that I have always assumed is the American version which came about in the 1820’s, which refers to a line drawn on the ground during prize fighting (as in the movie Far and Away). When one man crossed the line, then the fight was officially started. Therefore, I took this opening sentence to mean that Melanie believes she may be “toeing the line,” i.e. on the verge of starting a fight / controversy, with this post which is not explicitly about media criticism. But, Willem, your confusion is understandable.

Melanie Brooks @ November 5, 2005 - 5:24pm

Ah - figures of speech.

To clarify my first sentence - I felt that I was "toeing the line" by writing about Oprah Winfrey in a blog dedicated to media criticism because, though Oprah could be characterized as a media mogul, she is not, in fact, a journalist, newspaper, magazine, or nightly news show. I was worried that perhaps writing about Oprah in this blog would be inappropriate.

May I suggest, Willem, that if you have a question on specific wording, or are confused by something like a figure of speech, that you send an email directly to the person instead of creating a whole post about it. I feel as though most of the time your comments on this class blog are nitpicky about pedantics, spelling, and misunderstandings that have nothing to do with the actual point that your classmates are writing about.

If I was going to make a comment on your most recent blog, "US Propaganda Sanctioned by Federal Funding" you would want me to criticially read what you are saying about the subject and offer my opinions instead of pointing out that you had two typos (Powerpoint and occuring).

We should be adding value with our comments, not being copywriters, proofreaders, or playing devil's advocate just for the sake of publishing a comment.

I hope this has helped you understand my first sentence, which, in actuality, had little to do with the main point of my argument.

willemmarx @ November 7, 2005 - 9:33am

I would like opinions on the subject I am writing about AND to be told about typos and other mistakes I may have made, so I can correct them. Journalists have thick-skins and respond well to all sorts of criticism right?

Courtney F. Bal... @ November 7, 2005 - 1:02pm

Getting back to Melanie's original argument, if I may...

If it's snobby, then I guess I'm snobby with you. I went on a "books I should own but don't" spending spree a few weeks ago, and was disappointed to see the Oprah stamp on my copy of "The Sound and the Fury." I can't really explain it - it is great, as you say, that she's getting people reading. I think it bothers me that it would appear like I'm only reading because everyone's favorite talk show host prodded me to.

p.s. Speaking only for myself, journalists are notoriously thick-skinned while writers in general are notoriously insecure. I find it a hard dichotomy to maintain. Not a revelation or anything, just weighing in...

Melanie Brooks @ November 7, 2005 - 6:51pm

Courtney - The same feelings of "everyone is reading it, so I should too" also keep me from reading Harry Potter books. Perhaps when I have kids I'll read the books to them, but as of right now the hype around them disgusts me.

The next Harry Potter book could really stink - but it wont hurt sales. Hurrah for marketing! What ever agency has that account is rolling in it... I like to believe that writing and reading a book is above all of that.

Christie Rizk @ November 7, 2005 - 7:04pm

I agree with that, simply because I started reading the Harry Potter books before it became fashionable to do so. The first three had been out for a while - or at least the first two - before all the hype started. It annoys me when people think I read them to fit in.

Courtney F. Bal... @ November 7, 2005 - 11:01pm

I agree with you and Christie, though I was way behind the curve on that one and didn't start reading them until the first movie was out on video. I hope that doesn't go against my own argument! Still, they are worth the read, Melanie. :)

Annah (not verified) @ November 20, 2005 - 3:41pm

Are you afraid you won't be able to recognize your peers anymore if EVERYONE is now reading the type of literature that was only created for your social caste? Get over yourself. How embarrassing it must be for you that the unwashed, daytime TV watching masses are actually able to appreciate Tolstoy too. You may have to suck it up and rethink your own imagined intellectual superiority. You are privelaged and incredibly lucky that someone, when you were probably relatively young, introduced you to the transformative power of literature. But don't think that you got there yourself. And please don't assume that anyone else is unworthy of such a gift. I'm sure you are intelligent and well-meaning, but don't you see a dangerous elitism in your argument?

willemmarx @ November 20, 2005 - 4:41pm

I don't think it was literature specifically that Courtney was referring to, though the post happened to focus on Oprah's book club. I believe she was discussing a quite reasonable desire to keep certain things particular to oneself or one's friends, whether it be an artist, TV show, book, pair of sneakers. You are entitled to call it elitism if this was about not wanting the "unwashed, daytime TV watching masses" to read Tolstoy, but I think she was talking more generally about the striving for individualism through the uniqueness of certain consumer choices in some aspects of one's daily life. Everybody tends to seek identity through their choices, this is not necessarily snobbery or elitism, just part of human nature's primaeval and undeniable (though admittedly not always enlightened) desire to form certain groups, whether they are along ideological, political, racial, or stylistic lines.

Melanie Brooks @ November 21, 2005 - 3:10pm

On Annah's comment -

I would LOVE it if the "unwashed, daytime TV watching masses" appreciate Tolstoy - it wouldn’t embarrass me a bit.

FYI, Annah:

I am not privileged. Neither of my parents have a college education - they both currently hold blue-collar jobs in the small Maine town where I grew up. My English teachers introduced me to literature at my very small public high school – I didn’t have a leg up on anything. I feel very fortunate to be at NYU – but I am the one paying my tuition bills, along with all of my loans from my undergraduate education. Social caste my foot!

I showed examples of my torn feelings on Oprah’s book club. Good = Oprah is getting people reading quality books. Bad = She is a one-woman marketing guru who is killing my joy in finding a great read. See? It’s totally selfish. I know this. It has nothing to do with elitism – it has to do with my love of books.

If you feel offended I’m sorry – but perhaps you have pegged myself and the other bloggers who have commented wrongly.

Lamar Cole (not verified) @ December 27, 2005 - 11:17am

Oprah Winfrey is one of the best examples of being born into humble circumstances and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and going on to become one of the most confident, powerful, and successful persons in the world.

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