Friday, September 23, 2005

I don't watch Oprah, but ...

My friends mock me for many things – mockery's a sign of affection, right? - and one is my fear of being thought of as an Oprah watcher. A few too many times, I have told stories prefaced by "I don't watch Oprah, but I was flipping channels when I saw ..." and now I have a she-doth-protest-too-much reputation. I really don't watch Oprah, but I don't know why I care if people think I do. Occasionally. I mean, not all the time. Not that I do. I'm at work when it's on. It's just that sometimes I'm home sick.

OK, you get the idea. I'm an Oprah snob. And yet I was ridiculously happy that she's decided to revive her flagging Book Club by introducing contemporary authors again. Whatever my thoughts on her show – which I don't watch – this is a woman who used her tremendous influence to popularize reading, and reading quality books. And that influence translated into a huge surge in sales for these books, and a higher profile for the authors. Whatever my thoughts on her choices – and I don't love the sombre humourlessness of many of them – they are meaty reads, worthy of attention.

She did select a few of my favourite novels, Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (who famously refused to use her stamp of approval), which only caused a surge in my Oprah snobbery. I read them before she chose them. Really. I did. I didn't pick them up because Oprah told me to. I don't even watch her show.

Then in 2002, she claimed she couldn't find enough quality books to sustain the Club, a televised slap in the face to contemporary authors. So she disbanded the program, only to resume a year later with famous classics. Never as popular as the original Book Club, the classic Club had another downside for Oprah: dead authors make lousy talk show guests.

Now, after pleas from some living authors, Oprah's back in the present. On Thursday, she announced her first pick for the new Book Club, a lot like the old Book Club: A Million Little Pieces, a memoir of alcohol and drug rehab by James Frey, signalling her decision to include non-fiction as well as fiction this time around. By Friday, the book headed Amazon's Top Sellers list.

I haven't read it, and fear the potential for sombre humourlessness, but I just might check it out. But not because Oprah told me to.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


"I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become."
- Oprah Winfrey