Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Oprah Book Club, Jonathan Franzen and a lesson the L.A. poetry community won't learn.

Here's an op-ed article by Julia Keller which appeared in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES today re the Oprah Winfrey Book Club:,0,6657148.story

A salient passage (with highlighting by me):
So forget Kindle. What transformed literary culture in 2000-09 was "The Corrections" (2001) by Jonathan Franzen -- not only the book, which is a big, gorgeous, strapping 19th century novel smuggled into the 21st, and a Midwestern novel to boot, but also the story behind the story. It was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. Franzen was less than thrilled about the honor -- previous Winfrey books struck him as dreadfully down-market and plebeian -- which led to a mini-dust-up with Winfrey and a sudden spotlight on a dirty little truth: Literature is the last refuge of the snob. Most of us thought, in our infinite ignorance, that readers are readers, and the more readers, the better. But not Franzen: He wanted only certain kinds of readers.Winfrey's book club began in 1996, but it was the Franzen episode that put it on the map. Yes, her imprimatur made a huge difference in a book's sales from the get-go, but "The Corrections" -- the intricate, beautifully written story of the slow, tottering fall of a Midwestern family -- made her book club controversial, and in the United States, nothing is truly important until it has started a few arguments.The first decade of the 21st century revealed two things to the literary world: the power of a TV talk-show host to shape our collective taste in books, and the rudeness of a self-important author when that taste happened to include his work. (Never mind that Winfrey also favored William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck; she was still too lowbrow for Franzen.)

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