Why I hate Oprah’s book club: a greengeekgirl rant®.

18 November 2011 by 73 Comments

This logo makes me want to stab my eyes out and feed them to an orphan.

Post-publishing edit: There has been some miscommunication here, I think. When I’m talking about “readers” below (and you will know when I get to that point), I’m purposely referring to people who aren’t really readers or who don’t have any genuine interest in becoming good readers, not people who are new to reading and have genuine passion for it. I’m talking about people who think they are reading experts because they read the OBC selections, and worse, act like they are experts because they read the OBC selections. I am talking about a very specific subgroup of people. Not all people. That is all.

There are few things in this world I truly, truly loathe. I loathe willful ignorance. I loathe deceit. I loathe hipsters. And I loathe pretentious soccer moms who think they’re cool and/or smart because they read Oprah’s Book Club Selections.

I’m one of the few people out there who doesn’t think that everybody should read for entertainment.  Sure, I think it’s important that everyone can read, and that everyone can read critically, but I in no way advocate pleasure reading to people who I think would run the risk of ruining what is my favorite pastime.

What do I mean, ruining reading? Here are just a few gems from the philistines at Amazon.com in the reviews of one of my all-time favorite novels, Love in the Time of Cholera:

“I encourage anyone that has the desire to read this book to spend that time instead cleaning the grout in your shower with a qtip. I promise you, it will be much more rewarding.”

“At the end, I wish I died of cholera”

“What a horrible disappointment. This book shows “love” in all its profane forms: seduction and molestation of a minor, adolescent and unrequited lust, fornication during a time of mourning, adultery, a rape that ‘enraptured’ the victim, promiscuity without the reality of STDs and unplanned pregnancies, along with “love” resulting in suicide and homicide. I hope the movie is vastly different from the book.”

“Florentino decides to “save himself” for her… by having a lifetime of affairs? Way to ‘save yourself’, you psycho, commitment-phobe, stalker, predator, child-molester, rapist!!!!”

“By far the most overrated book I have ever read and really good indicator of where our society is heading.”

“You are such a child – “magical realism” – that doesn’t even make sense!!! The way you keep using it and using it – you must love the kiss the dicky sentence – huh – it’s just so magically realistic the way a young girl is molested by an old man – the way he says, put her clothes on the bear – so magical! Thank you one star reviewers – these people who love rapists and child molesters are SICK, but hey, at least they love their magical realism…..It’s just so magical and realistic at the very same time – it’s magical! And realistic! Magical! Realistic! Magical. Realistic. See, if I write it enough it will make me see how this sick book deserves 5 stars…magical…realistic…magical…realistc…… [sic]

“My favorite character? The parrot!” (This from someone who seems to think he is Conan O’Brien.)

If I were Gabriel García-Márquez reading these reviews, I would be crushed. I’d have to go bury my Nobel Prize for Literature in the backyard out of shame.

But seriously–the man won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Whether or not one finds him to one’s liking, he won a goddamn award, arguably the most prestigious award, for writing. In light of this, you might think that, upon finishing one of his works, one might kick back for a spell and contemplate the language, the meaning, the journey into another culture, before running to Amazon and insinuating that Márquez is a closet pedophile. And you would be wrong. Dead fucking wrong.

I don’t want reading to be taken over by the ignorant. [Post-publishing edit: when I say "ignorant" I mean "willfully ignorant"--people who want to skip to being an uber-expert without taking the time to learn about things like . . . you know, how literature works.] This isn’t to say that everybody who follows the OBC list is ignorant, but I suspect that most many of the people who started reading just ‘cos Oprah said to read and afterwards run to Amazon to complain about canonical works of literature are often the same people who watch television news, believing every single word that comes out of the pundits’ mouths because the pundits are on TV, and then deem themselves experts on economics or constitutional law because they’ve been bolstered by the idea that opinions are a substitute for knowledge. Oprah’s audience, on the whole, is so not advanced enough for Love in the Time of Cholera; you don’t get an overwhelmingly literate and thoughtful audience by doing makeover shows and Springer-esque interventions. (See the 25 most-watched episodes of Oprah here.)

And Oprah should have known better, dammit. Not only do you have these people out there professing crap opinions of our favorite books, but because they’re also “readers” now, they’re steadily trying to insert themselves into our cozy, comfy reading lifestyle.  Which would be fine, but . . . . well, it’s like inviting your country cousins to the opera and having to explain in loud whispers why this op’ry don’t have banjos. (And yes, I have country cousins, dozens of them–I’m from Kentucky. And that is exactly what they would ask.) How many times can you gently turn down an asinine reading recommendation without hurting someone’s feelings? How long can you smile wanly through a rant about why they don’t understand how come Mark Twain had to use so much foul language in his books, or why Nabokov had to write so much filthy smut, or why Charles Dickens couldn’t just make his books a little more readable like that Grisham fellow?  And when is Godot gonna show up, and who the hell is Godot any-damn-way? This book sucks!

(seethes)

They’re readers now, you see. Just like you and me, who have been reading since before they stopped gnawing on the edges of their books. We who were at the library when they were off drinking canned beer and vomiting or peeing on a stick and hoping it said “not pregnant.” We who had graduated from YA books before they had the patience to read any books. Now we are the same. Because of Oprah’s Book Club, the great equalizer.  And because we are now the same, we’re forced to sit and listen to every asinine, ignorant thing they have to say about writers who crafted Serious and Important Work, and we’re forced to pretend that their opinions are equal to ours, despite the fact that we’ve been reading for decades and they wouldn’t read at all if Oprah hadn’t told them to. Because opinions are substitutes for knowledge now, and Oprah unleashed them on our favorite books.

The good news is that the OBC (yeah, you know me–wait, shit, that’s O.P.P.) seems to be winding down recently.  I’ll be more than glad if the Oprah crowd keeps reading, as long as they stay away from my babies and don’t try to suggest any books for me to read.  I imagine that, without the list updating frequently, selections on par with The Road* and Love/Cholera will probably drop from her book club members’ reading adventures. This is all I want, really–to be able to read without having to share my reading with people who have no affinity for it.  In return, I promise to leave your preferred hobbies alone, be they watching sports, cleaning the house, or bondage.  You’ll never hear me whine, “But this ball gag is just so uncomfortable!” I promise.

*Just an aside: I found this review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It doesn’t seem to be written by an OBC member, and I disagree with his opinion of Cormac McCarthy, but his review was full of win. Go read it. You’ll laugh. A lot.

Update: This tweet from our beloved Amy in response to the OBC reaction to Love/Cholera must be shared:

I basically died when I read this.

Susie

Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Food Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

73 thoughts on “Why I hate Oprah’s book club: a greengeekgirl rant®.

  1. Hmm. I think I disagree to an extent. I recall that Ilie Wiesel’s “Night” was also an Oprah Book Club recommendation. I recall that I actually looked up Oprah’s website and even posted a note to her on that occasion. Why, I’m not a fan of hers either? I did because I was grateful that she was bringing this book and its subject (the Holocaust) out of the dark recesses of libraries and bookstores and into the hands of readers. Perhaps there were those that didn’t understand the grace of the book BUT I’m of the ilk that believes that if just a handful of people were moved by the book, just a handful understood the role of apathy in that horror, or just a handful will remember that history, well, then it is worth the random potential rank reviews on Amazon or elsewhere. So, while I too am not a fan of Ms O and some of her pranks, the Book Club is not, in my book (ha pun), an Oprah-Evil.

    • Although I can certainly see your point, I don’t feel that Night is a book that was languishing in obscurity before Oprah added it to her book club list–it’s been translated into 30 languages and was selling something like 300,000 copies a year before she selected it. Definitely not an unknown work :)

      • I agree, it’s wasn’t a very obscure pick at all. It was a required read for my World History class in high school. I will admit that I didn’t realize there were sequels to Night until recently, though. Can’t wait to see how they compare!

      • Of course as reader, lovers of literature, and the ones who actually read the books we were assigned in high school, “Night” is not obsure to us. But if I jump on the thread here, that’s not who we are talking about as the typical OBC participant. Do you think the 300,000 copies a year were sold to OBC types? Even if they were, and “Night” is a bad example, my point is that she IS exposing readers to literature that they might not read otherwise. Despite the cost of uninformed comments, I don’t see that as a bad thing.

      • No, I don’t see that as a bad thing, either. (Not that them hating Love/Cholera and some others that they responded not well to is probably whetting their reading whistle, so I’m not sure it’s particularly helping them to read those books.) But that bit doesn’t make the other bit less frustrating to me ^_^

        This is a rant, after all–rants are rarely fair or reasonable or balanced ;)

  2. I have mixed feelings about Oprah’s Book Club. When it first launched, my eyes almost rolled right out of my head. However, two books that I hold in very high regard (The Road and Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone) were Oprah selections. I didn’t read them because they were Oprah selections, but they just so happened to be. So part of me feels like the club can’t be all bad, because she’s bringing some really great books to the attention of folks who might not otherwise have been exposed to them, and while I agree that some of her picks are a little advanced for the average casual reader, there have to be some people like you and me who read them and a light turns on and they recognize the greatness before them. I really need to believe that. But I can also totally empathize with that outraged feeling you get when you see/hear someone trashing a book you love and respect, especially when they’re trashing it because they clearly just didn’t understand it. It makes me crazy. I have banned myself from reading reviews on the Barnes & Noble site because those people drive me to drink. I have written at length on my own blog that you can absolutely loathe and despise a book while still respecting it. You don’t have to like a book because everyone else does, but a sharp, smart, conscientious reader can still ponder and recognize what a book contributes to the world at large even if they don’t like it. I hate DH Lawrence with a passion, but I completely understand why his contributions to literature are important and it makes me furious that some people just aren’t capable of that kind of reasoning. But at the same time, I also have some respect for what Oprah’s trying to do. She’s recommending worthwhile books in an attempt to widen peoples’ horizons and maybe raise the bar a little bit. If people who normally only read Danielle Steele are giving Cormac McCarthy a try, I think that’s a good thing. You can’t control what they think of it, but fortunately for us, we don’t have to read their asinine reviews on bookstore web sites.

    • I definitely respect what she’s trying to do. I hate that she unleashed her fans on works of serious literature knowing that her audience was built on some pretty questionable daytime TV content–there were times when her shows tipped into Springer without chair-throwing. I don’t hate that she has a book club, but I hate the book club because of this particular result. ^_^

  3. I agree as well. Sometimes it’s hard to take readers who obviously have no context of literature. I don’t find the soccer moms or even YA readers as my main annoyance though. ‘Cause I rarely meet a soccer mom [at my school] that actually reads…Instead it’s my administration that tends to be, shall we say, conservative (say good-by to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Twain is still allowed…but, I think, only because the administration knows 97% of our students aren’t really reading/understanding/enjoying the text).

    But even as an avid YA reader (I do enjoy the entire spectrum of trash to treasure in the literary world) I am soooo annoyed by hearing, from adults, “Twilight got me back into reading…now I’m a reader!”. Dude, I loved Twilight, not ashamed to admit it. But don’t you think as a reasonably intelligent adult you should expand your reading beyond the world of high school? Just a thought…Because as yummy as Twilight can be it’s not exactly good literature…And it sure as hell shouldn’t be any type of measuring stick as a “reader”.

    • Agree, agree. I don’t even mind people who stick mostly to things like Twilight, as long as they don’t try to lump us into the same category. I read my junk novels like everyone else, but . . . it’s like, I enjoy movies, but I’d never try to insinuate that I was some kind of film buff or try to talk/argue/critique movies with someone who is a film buff. I would clearly be out of my league there.

  4. ok, so Oprah unleashed the lions. I HOPE that for all those who didn’t get it, there were a couple who did. For them, I’m glad she did it. I DO wish she hadn’t quite gone the classic route. If the goal was to get people reading, there’s nothing wrong w/ popular fiction. and that nice man named Grisham. I think that would’ve actually had a larger long-term impact on getting the general public to read.

    • Yes, exactly. She has to know her audience because she is a very, very successful woman, and all of that success came from giving her audience what they wanted. I actually don’t mind so much that she has a book club–actually, I don’t mind that at all. I mind the way she sent them into territory that wasn’t really suited for most of her audience at the expense of those of us for whom the books are suited. It was so hard for the longest time to have discussions on books like Love in the Time of Cholera because of that, and I was a sad panda.

  5. I certainly agree with a lot of this, but ranking people’s opinions based on their education on a subject is exactly what your dreaded hipsters do when it comes to music. Would you still hate Kesha if she won the Nobel Peace Prize for Music? Yes. Opinions are opinions.

    What this rant SHOULD be aimed at is Amazon.com for allowing the mouth breathers of the world to be allowed to talk shit about works that are canonized in literature. Only people with some education and experience in looking at a book for its worth should be allowed to review books on Amazon… and that’s my twinky nomming opinion.

    • Why shouldn’t Amazon.com allow people to talk shit about a book that they purchased and read? It’s a free country. I don’t blame Amazon at all; them censoring reviews is very, very bad for their business model.

      Regarding hipsters, that’s not exactly what hipsters rank people’s opinions on–the common joke about hipsters is that they don’t like anything that is “mainstream.” Their looking down on others is not based on the level of education but a more arbitrary form of elitism that seems to be based on liking what is obscure and eschewing what is popular, regardless of the quality of either.

      • I’m not concerned about their mainstream-ness or lack of mainstream-ness, but about an actual lack of education, whether formal education or through long experience reading. (See “Magical realism–that doesn’t even make sense?!”) In that respect, some opinions are not as valuable as others–as I said to someone above, I would never try to insert myself into a dialogue with film buffs, even though I enjoy movies, because I lack the education to do so. And I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a film classic and expect my opinion to be taken seriously by people who know about films.

  6. I think the problem isn’t the value of the opinion, but the people that THINK there is value in the opinion. Anyway, enjoyed your post. I’m certainly glad there are booksluts in this world defending my favorite books while I sleep at night.

  7. Hmmm…OK, a thought from me. You were upset about all the bad reviews that “Love in the Time of Cholera” received because the readers didn’t quite understand the book and it was YOUR favorite book.

    For me, I get upset at readers who read books just because the book won an award or prize, and then reader thinks that they are knowledgeable in everything literature because they read an award winning book. This is exactly what you said about people who watch the news and “deem themselves experts” because of “opinions that are substitutes for knowledge”. “…but I suspect that most of the people who started reading just ‘cos Oprah said to read are often the same people who watch television news, believing every single word that comes out of the pundits’ mouths because the pundits are on TV, and then deem themselves experts on economics or constitutional law because they’ve been bolstered by the idea that opinions are a substitute for knowledge.”

    Aren’t awards given out to people by other people who have an OPINION that the award recipient’s work is deemed “award worthy”. Maybe for me, or for others, that award recipient’s work wasn’t “award worthy”. It’s all opinions.

    I don’t have any problem with “ignorant” people reading or people reading just because Oprah recommended a book. It’s just a simple book recommendation and it is OK, even if people have not been reading for decades, to pick up a book and dive into an “Important and Serious Work”. Maybe they want to be more well read? What’s the problem? To each his own.

    • Well, one point, it is not my FAVORITE book. I don’t have a favorite book. It’s one of my favorites. It’s at least in the top fifteen.

      Second point, when you talk about people reading award-winning books and feeling knowledgeable, that’s far different from talking about the people who are awarding the prizes–especially when you want to get into Nobel or Pulitzer committees. Those people are knowledgeable in the field of literature. I don’t think they would let any Tom, Dick, or Harry hand out awards worth that much money or prestige. They’re probably not basing their opinions on whether or not they got warm fuzzies from the book.

      Third point, I do not believe that Oprah telling people to read a book is a simple recommendation. My mom telling me to read a book is a simple recommendation. Oprah has a media empire and legions of fans. I’m not saying it’s wrong that she did it, but I am saying it bugs the hell out of me that she created this situation that I now have to deal with a lot more often than I’d like to.

      Lastly, this rant is, in itself, an opinion. I’m not trying to make an ultimate moral judgment here. :)

    • Oh! The one point I forgot:

      I am fine with people reading to get better at reading. I am not fine with people assuming that they are great at reading just because they read two or three OBC books a year, and then acting like they know everything about literature when they haven’t put in the time or effort. I saw the way some of the OBC folks were talking in comments to people who were a lot more educated–yes, educated, not as in opinions but about the facts of literary movements and literary devices, etc–and it went to some scary places.

      • Yes I’ve seen people turn on informed opinions in many forums. Education seems to scare a lot of people right now- maybe it’s the insta-media but it’s few people who will go the extra mile to understand an idea they don’t already know and agree with. There is something to be said for the clash of ideas the Oprah book club and other book seller forums creates- while vastly annoying to people who read often and talk to other deep readers- your encounter with the sunday reader is invaluable- the spark- the push back- needs to happen- there’s already too much only hanging around with like minded folks going on. It’s annoying because you are just 1 person and I’m sure you’d rather be READING but every time you engage the deliberate ignorant you are letting them know- O not everyone thinks like me- that’s valuable if exhausting.

  8. I can understand the fear of having your favorite hobby invaded by morons, but I have to think that overall the number of readers exposed to a higher class of books because of OBC resulted in an overall positive. That’s based on the notion that the morons in question will move on to different pastures soon enough, while the sheer numbers involved mean that SOME good readers must have been created. And that’s a plus in my mind despite the bizarre side-effects.
    There’s also the inverse argument, which is, sadly, that plenty of morons vent their stupidity on amazon about products that Oprah hasn’t come close to endorsing. Here is an excerpt from a review of Goodfellas, one of my all-time favorite movies. Even if you are not a die hard fan you will no doubt recognize a similar…voice shall we say?…in this review which, again, is impossible to blame on Oprah:
    “I was sad to see Joe Pesce stoop to such a low in his career. He was soooooo great in Home Alone, but then he has this vulgar piece of doo-doo on his resume. The only part I liked was Jimmy “Two Time” when he says “Get the papers, get the papers.” I laughed and laughed. I rewinded to that part at least 27 times. But then laughter turned to fear when I thought Joe Pesce’s character was going to come through the screen and pop a cap in my noodle for laughing. Overall, the movie was poorly written and badly directed. It wasn’t upbeat and postive nor was it colorful and fun like my all-time favorite movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

    • That is true. I definitely don’t want to discount the positive, even if it doesn’t diminish my rage toward the idiots who assume that they are, in reality, awesome and knowledgeable readers when they really aren’t.

      Great in Home Alone?????????????????????? (dies)

  9. Hm. Interesting! I don’t know anything about Oprah’s Book Club (though I’ve heard the name) so I can’t really say much about its worthiness or lack thereof.

    But I’m a bit uncomfortable that you seem to think that some readers are better than others, and that people should in some way aspire to become ‘better readers’. I think most people who read do it because they enjoy it (I know I do!). Ok, there are probably a few who do it because they want to be fashionable, or to educate themselves in literature or some other reason. But people enjoy different types of books, and if they happen – for whatever reason – to read a book they really don’t like, is there any good reason why they shouldn’t say so? And just because a book wins a prize doesn’t mean it’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

    Having said that (I am now at risk of looking like a mad changeable hypocrite…), it does annoy me hugely when people clearly haven’t read something properly and haven’t taken in what it’s actually saying, or don’t understand a literary tradition or convention that is so incredibly obvious to anyone who’s read a dozen books, or just pick up on some issue and dump their own assumptions on it without considering whether they’re right or wrong.

    So. Having come down firmly but a bit pointlessly on both sides of the argument, I will now go away… :D

    • I don’t mind them saying that they didn’t like it at all, or that they are reading–I really apparently didn’t make my views very clear in this rant that I’m talking about a very specific subset of people who think that, because they are in Oprah’s Book Club, they are these badass readers who have maybe read a dozen or two books over the span of their lifetimes. I’m not so much talking about people who don’t know but want to learn, but people who are being willfully ignorant and refusing to learn, and being all judgey in spite of this.

      Some readers are more educated than others about literature. It’s not all down to opinion. :)

      • Ok, I get you – I think I misinterpreted what you said in your post. And I totally agree that some readers are more educated about literature than others – which I’m only bothered by if they think they are and start judging other people because of it.

        By the way, congrats on writing such a fabulously controversial post! I always enjoy reading your blog. :D

      • Yeaaaaah my fury may have caused me to go a tiny bit overboard with the caustic language, but I tried to qualify that I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinions or that people shouldn’t share their opinions, just that it irritates the almighty hell out of me when I have to deal with people who think they have awesome experience enough to say that a well-respected work of literature is a piece of junk when they clearly do not have that experience. (That magical realism person KILLED ME. Like “OH, THAT’S NOT A THING, that doesn’t even make sense!!!!!!” My jaw literally dropped.) I have plenty of things that I enjoy casually but never try to pretend to be an expert about!

  10. I liked Oprah’s Book Club for awhile because, in my busy life, I don’t always have opportunities to get recommendations on books. I do go to the library to wander around once a week, but I’m interested in what other people are reading. And I think an enormously public and popular book club can serve to broaden the horizons of those who might otherwise stick to a particular genre, if they read at all. It’s like high school. Some “get it,” some don’t, but all are maybe changed just a little for having read it.

  11. Overall, I agree with the sentiment of your rant, but I think your frustration is misplaced. Rather than be frustrated or angry with *any* of Oprah’s readers, why not simply be mad at *Oprah*?

    Look, here: I get that you’re irritated by people who are willfully ignorant and, thus, are posting terrible reviews of your favorite books on Amazon. However, in the scope of things, Oprah does some other really rather awful stuff on her show. Most episodes are silly and harmless, but Oprah also consistently promotes bad “medical” practices and faulty science–occasionally leading to actual bodily harm of her viewers, who take what she says at face value. Many people take her opinion very seriously–not merely about what books to read, but about how to live their lives.

    So, in the scheme of things, I’m not particularly concerned about the false “readers” in Oprah’s book club. It’s true that most of her “readers” aren’t actually trying to gain insight from the books they’re reading, and that can certainly be frustrating for individuals who truly appreciate good literature. However, at the end of the day, most normal people simply aren’t going to be easily persuaded to read _Night_ or _Love in the Time of Cholera_ on their own. If Oprah’s what it takes to get average people reading good literature–even if they don’t entirely understand it–I’m okay with that. I’ll simply be angry that Oprah isn’t also following up her book club recommendations with real discussions and information about literature, just as she fails to provide real information and discussion about *most* topics.

    • I never said Oprah is not a problem, for sure. (In fact, I am pretty sure I said something along the lines of “Oprah should know better”–check above!)

      That having been said, I’m still frustrated with Oprah’s readers. I’m not saying this is a logical frustration. It is just my frustration. Which is why I titled the post “Why I hate Oprah’s book club” instead of “Why Oprah’s book club readers are intrinsically bad.” :)

      • Apologies if that was expressed above–rants can get a bit tough to follow sometimes. (If only you saw mine!) In the attempt to keep *my* comment from turning into its own post, perhaps I cut some things out, sacrificing clarity.

        I feel like, with Oprah’s Book Club, there’s a good idea at its core that I’d rather not knock, even indirectly. Even if swaths of uninformed readers start ruining the Amazon ratings for my favorite books, I’d be happy to see people *reading those books.* They’re generally things that the average person wouldn’t want to read, so I like to think that at least a *few* of those uninformed readers learned something positive by encountering good literature–even if the overwhelming majority of Oprah’s “readers” would seem to imply otherwise. I’m mad that Oprah’s Book Club is carelessly designed, and I strongly dislike Oprah, but I don’t *hate* Oprah’s *Book Club.*

        It’s not that I entirely disagree with you. It’s just that, by titling your post “Why I Hate Oprah’s Book Club”–even if you later try to clarify that initial title–you’re inadvertently saying that you have a problem with the very *idea* of Oprah *having* a book club–or, at the very least, that’s what it *sounds* like. Certainly, arguing that most of her readers aren’t “advanced enough” to read your favorite books doesn’t help–what does “advanced enough” look like, anyway?–and while you touched on the idea that “Oprah should have known better,” you still place most of the blame on Oprah’s “readers,” when I really do think it’s more a problem of Oprah not setting a good example for her viewers.

        “Willfully ignorant” people, such as Oprah–Yes, I said it!–give their opinions about a lot of things, so I don’t take it personally when they end up giving their opinions about literature. What I do take personally, though, is Oprah demeaning her viewers by encouraging them to read “good” literature, then failing to back up her recommendations with actual literary discussion.

        In summary: Although rants are *supposed* to be emotion-fueled, I also think that criticisms *of* rants are supposed to be a bit more logically thought-out. In this spirit, it’s my opinion that your rant should be redirected a bit further away from Oprah’s viewers and a whole lot closer towards Oprah. Oprah’s Book Club “readers” aren’t intrinsically bad, but the idea of “Oprah’s Book Club” isn’t intrinsically bad, *either.* Oprah simply fails to follow through with proper information, *as always.*

  12. Hmmm.

    Sounds like you need to take off your “asshole” hat before you hit “publish” next time.

    Wow. While I appreciate the “shock” factor of a post like this, as well as the undoubted uptick in views due to the Google-favorable title, and while I have some disdain for the Oprah Book Club, I was revolted by this post.

    I am going to take some time to settle down and reread it to decide if I will remain a follower of your blog. I thought this was a blog about appreciating books, not about ostracizing and judging large swaths of people you know nothing about.

      • Well, really, many of the posts and replies I’ve read in this string are very judgemental. Maybe I’m insecure but I have to wonder if I’m one of the uneducated readers that are the burr under your saddle. I love books, love to read, but my expertise is not literature – hence I didn’t know that “Night” was so widely publised and read. Does that mean that I can’t comment? Does that invalidate my opinion of the book? Or nulify what it meant to me?

        And what’s with all of the references cutting Soccer Moms? I’m not a mom so I’m not taking that personally but, really how is it that they are all assumed unworthy of reading and understanding literature? Just a bit too much over-generalization not to ring as judgemental.

        My, reading is such a great thing. I hate to see anything discourage someone from participating in book discussion. So what if their insights and motives aren’t of the elite level? I think rather than berate us lowly casual readers you can welcome us to the fold, help educate us, bring us up to speed, so we can share whatever it is you think you know that we don’t.

      • Sigh.

        1) I mentioned soccer moms once. Hit CTRL+F–two mentions from another commenter, one from you, one from me (and now a few more in this post–total of eight, I believe). Whole page. And I didn’t just reference “soccer moms” but “pretentious soccer moms who think they’re cool and/or smart because they read Oprah book club selections.” That is extremely specific. That isn’t all readers, or all uneducated readers, or all Oprah book club readers or all soccer mom readers. It is that specific subset of readers who engage in that behavior.

        This page is snarky. We knew this.

        2) Uneducated readers who go around acting as though they know everything about literature when they have put in almost no time actually reading books are the burrs under my saddle. Not uneducated readers on the whole. I also qualified that I meant willfully ignorant people, not just people who haven’t been exposed.

        3) Running to Amazon and talking about how much a book sucks because Marquez is a giant pedo and it’s filthy doesn’t qualify to me as a literary insight. Someone who chooses to rail at someone for using the term “magical realism” because they assume that is a made-up term, without even having the intellectual curiosity to Google it and find out that it’s a real thing, has a marked lack of insight. Are these, then, the people who are begging to be welcomed into the fold, or who are seeking understanding?

        If one is going to engage in something, I feel it’s rude not to engage that thing on its own terms. Like I said at the end of the post, I wouldn’t go to a bondage club and whine that the restraints are too uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of going to a bondage club and it’s obnoxious to do that. Likewise, if one is going to read literature, one should expect literature from literature and treat it as such. Because Oprah’s book club has created an environment for certain books where people approach literature in an immature way, and on an extremely widespread level, without, as Katherine pointed out, providing the tools for readers to be able to appreciate the works suggested to them, I hate Oprah’s book club. I find it frustrating and annoying. And I clarified on several points the behaviors that I specifically find annoying, and also that I don’t think every person who reads Oprah book club selections is ignorant.

      • Also? I am guessing you totally did not look up the reviews in question and see those people berating everyone who gave the book five stars and suggesting that the five-star reviewers are sick people who condone child rape. Those comments and reviews are there, in large numbers.

      • Re: mudlips’s comment:

        This. Even though greengeekgirl has qualified a few statements, I had some of the same overall feelings about her post.

        I’m perfectly happy having casual readers commenting on my favorite books–even if *some* of those readers *are* “willfully ignorant.” I just assume that, since Oprah’s not providing proper discussion, it’s *my* job (as a fellow human being, not necessarily as a more educated, more thoughtful reader) to help those casual readers–even the snarky, willfully ignorant ones!–know how people with more experience can (and do!) arrive at entirely different conclusions–and, why those entirely different conclusions are often more valid. Admittedly, it can be wearing to engage discussion with some of the snarkier folks, but that’s just how life goes!

        Many high school students are “willfully ignorant.” Many high school students are relatively uneducated readers. Many high school students are unfamiliar with literary terminology. However, we as a society still sit them down and teach them about classic literature because we, as a society, think that *all people* should know a thing or two about reading critically. *As a society,* we don’t qualify that idea by saying, “Well, if some students just aren’t interested, and they don’t want to learn, we’ll just let them go do something else.” We tell them to write what they’re thinking–even if it’s so, so, very, very wrong–so that a teacher–someone we presume to be more experienced in literary matters–can try to help them see how their opinions and views can be better shaped.

        I take that same stance with Oprah’s Book Club. I don’t mind inexperienced readers–even the “willfully ignorant” ones–picking up “good” literature, so long as someone’s around to help them through it. The problem isn’t that Oprah’s Book Club exists. The problem isn’t that “willfully ignorant” readers are picking up books that are out of their league. The problem is that Oprah’s Book Club shoddily designed. It shifts a lot of responsibility away from the people who started it (i.e. Oprah) and virtually all of the responsibility onto readers who, I like to think, have good intentions *as a whole.*

        I mean, if a “willfully ignorant” reader picks up _Love in the Time of Cholera_ *of their own accord* and proceeds to read the *entire book,* how “willfully ignorant” can they be?

      • You’re more than entitled to disagree, of course. I would have actually been okay if it had just been people saying, “Yeah, I didn’t like it, don’t get it, don’t understand why he wrote about all this stuff” but the comments and reviews got so vicious–not just toward the book but toward other people who liked the book. Like, way more vicious than anything I might have said. Far, far more vicious. So I don’t really feel bad about complaining about these people, especially since I understand and did my best to clarify that the situations that keep coming up about people who are new to reading and enjoying reading are not at all the situation that was my focus.

        Yes, we do teach kids about literature. And if any of them handed in a book report like the stuff I have seen from the reviewers, they would get a solid F and probably would have had to meet with their teachers.

        We’re still talking about two different things.. I’m not talking about people who want to read, or who want to read classics, or who thoughtfully read classics even if they don’t like them. I’m talking about the people who completely miss the point and don’t even want to try, but still want to consider themselves awesome readers. People who want to skip to the head of the reading line. And for sure, Oprah had a part in it all. But my judgments are also based on the public actions of these people that were put out for display and for comment… sort of like y’all are critiquing my public actions ;-)

    • All art *IS* is judging large swaths of people you know nothing about. The Dutch masters, the ancient Romans, the Victorian Upper Class. That’s half the fun of art is deciding things about the people in these worlds I’ll never actually visit.

      But anyway, the point of this post (as I read it) wasn’t that these new readers don’t have a right to their opinions. The point was to express the annoyance that suddenly while I’m looking through reviews on Amazon, something I do often in order to find enjoyable reviews both agreeing *and* disagreeing with my opinion, I suddenly have to wade through reviews where opinions are tossed out like bricks instead of expressed as thoughts. There aren’t rules about who can read what, but there are rules about having a discussion concerning the arts, and one of those rules is to acknowledge that just because something is different from what you’ve read your whole life, that doesn’t automatically make it bad or stupid.

  13. First, I totally love Twinkies. Who doesn’t, I mean really, terrorists? Come on. And my Grandma loves her stories. But I wouldn’t mix them with “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

    I think the main point of the post is being completely missed. Like, here’s the point, and here’s the exit for the point, and whoa, there goes your car, were you playing with your iPod or what? and now you have to drive all the way to Ronkonkoma until you get to another exit so you can backtrack to get back to the original exit for the point.

    The post is not ostracizing, attacking, or singling out anyone, other than, perhaps, uninformed “book reviewers” (and rightfully so – I mean, come on, “magical realism doesn’t even make sense”?) It’s not saying people shouldn’t read. She WANTS people to read. This is a blog! About BOOKS! Which wouldn’t exist if people didn’t read! Therefore, making the blog moot! Oh, the irony!

    I know nothing about, say, sports. I’m not going on, oh, I don’t know, where do people even TALK about sports, like, ESPN blogs, or something?, and start saying things like “man, that guy with the blue uniform, he really was dropping the ball a lot when the guy with the red uniform was running toward him! That rule about passing doesn’t even make sense!” I’d be mocked. And? I’d deserve to be. I wouldn’t belong there.

    Listen, I’ve found some keepers among Oprah’s books. As mentioned above, “She’s Not There,” for example. “The Deep End of the Ocean,” as another. But once the club swerved over into higher-brow literature, it got very confusing. I’m not saying Oprah watchers aren’t intelligent enough, en masse, to “get” this type of literature. But I think they may have been subject to the old bait-and-switch. They were expecting the clowns in the car with a spritzer bottle, and they got Shakespeare. And they were CONFUSED. And they were ANGRY. Not at Oprah! No! Never at Oprah! Because that’s sacrilegious. But at the BOOKS. And the AUTHORS. For FOOLING THEM. Additionally, I’m not sure what Oprah’s motives were. She wanted to be taken more seriously? Maybe? The original books were good, if not “literary”.

    Sorry. This got ranty. When does a comment stop being a comment and start being a post of its own?

    I also have an asshole hat, by the way. It’s pretty, and it keeps the raindrops from my asshole hairdo.

    • You have a beautiful asshole hairdo :D

      A few more comments of my own, even though everything you said was gorgeous, and they are addenda and not in opposition to your comment (this statement is for clarity because I often fall prey to Aspergian intensity and people think I am trying to pick a fight with them and I am just being passionate :D) :

      I did say that I don’t think most of her audience is the right audience for Marquez, but I never, ever said that they were inferior people for that alone. Many of them are probably not seasoned readers and therefore ignorant of the finer points of reading someone like Marquez. I mean . . . I think that was the whole point of starting OBC in the first place, wasn’t it? To encourage people who weren’t reading much to read? So that’s a given. And I’m mad that she did what you said and pulled the bait-and-switch, therefore unleashing her audience’s rage on the poor, unsuspecting literary world. But also upset at them for not being mature about discussing said books. Like I said at the end, you’ll never hear me going to a bondage club and complaining that the restraints are too uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of the deal.

      I totally agree with Katherine above, too, that there should have been some measure of follow-up, otherwise when people hate a book and don’t have any sense of perspective or a yardstick by which to measure it, they’ll be all “OMG I HATE THIS THIS IS DUMB.” And because the internet exists, they want to make sure that we also know they hate it. I mean, we all want to talk about things we hate–I wrote this post, no?

      And I really also hate that the sense of … being in the know that came from reading off of her list caused some people to believe that they were far more advanced readers than they are. I’m more than happy to talk to people who are just starting to branch their reading out. But when they bitch and complain about books that they don’t understand, it does get a little wearing. The ones who don’t bitch and complain or who have a solid understanding of their own reading level, be it less or more than mine, I have no beef with.

      And that is why I still hate Oprah’s book club. :D

  14. Although, I am not as passionate in my feelings towards OBC, I will say that I often shy away from books if they have an OBC sticker on them. Instead of making me want to read the book, it does the opposite. I have read a few of the books though and for the most I found that they often were on the depressing side. I cringed when she when she selected one of my favorite books (As I Lay Dying) was selected… thinking this can not be good. This post makes me want to go through and read the comments posted now.
    I am not a big fan of Gabriel García-Márquez, but I do appreciate his writing even though I could not finish the book I had read (Chronicle of a Death Foretold). I have been told that some of his other books would have been better reads for me, but have not tried getting around to them.
    I think the point of the post was not to “ostracize and judge large swaths of people you know nothing about,” but to vent about people not reviewing books with a critical eye and to keep in mind that although you may hate the premise or the writing style, or really whatever…. take care in the way you review the book. Writing an uneducated review that slams a book is really not appreciated by those who love it.

    • We (Rob and I, specifically, and some others in our book club over at Shelfari) especially hate when the Oprah emblem is not just on the cover but is a permanent part of the cover art–like it was printed on instead of using a sticker. I actually created stickers on Zazzle to put over the OBC logo for the “permanent” stickers because I don’t like advertising her club on my books.

      • I find myself embarrassed, almost, to be seen in public with a book that has her logo emblazoned across it. Not because I’m ashamed of said book (I rarely read anything, now, w/o a BBD recommendation) but because I don’t want people to think I’m a reader in her club!

  15. Gosh, you know, I’m not even sure how to comment here as so many have explained GreenGeekGirl so well already. So, I’ll share an example of people who don’t know how to read sharing their opinions.

    My aunt, frustrated that her step-children can’t pass their English classes: “Why should my kids be failing because of some stupid Shakespeare assignment? Why do we even read him? Who can understand his writing? Nobody talks that way! It’s stupid. Shakespeare should not be taught in schools!” My aunt is a non-reader, really into shows like The Real Housewives.

    I hate when non-readers share their ignorant opinions. If you don’t get it, that’s fine. I know Terrence Malick (director of Tree of Life) is supposed to be a great director. But, I watched A Thin Red Line three times and couldn’t get it. I have asked for help from my filmmaker friends who all get it, but I still don’t get it. I hate The Graduate. However, I know it’s a good movie. I just can’t stand Dustn Hoffman’s character- he’s a big wuss. But, I’m not going to go on Amazon and pronounce it a terrible movie- “I don’t know why everyone recommends this movie! It’s nothing but trash that promotes adultery with older women. For shame, Hollywood! Oh and Dustin Hoffman is a wuss!” I also don’t get art. I just don’t. And that’s my concession to my artist friends. Good enough.

    The point is, if you don’t know anything, keep your mouth shut until you do. Or concede that you’re a rookie. Otherwise, you sound like my students who critique The Twilight Zone with “I didn’t like it- it was in black and white.” come on!

    • Oh, art . . . . a whole ‘nother area where some people who don’t understand it have to demean it. “Rothko-schmothko. What’s the big deal about this? My five-year-old could have painted that!”

      • This is such a great post!!! I’m giggling along with “Lucysfootball” ESPN comparison- great way to bring the conversation back to the main point. I also wanted to high five you, greengeekgirl, on the bondage club comparison- that was classic.
        I wish I had more to add- I will say this- I ALWAYS bring my headphones when visiting any art gallery- between the pretentious couples exclaiming about “the light” in a particular work and making a mountain out of a molehill or the schnooks who go as part of a tour and are offended by the TITLE of a painting I just can’t stand to hear people’s closed minded reactions to art.
        PS Borkadventures- YES! He was SUCH A WUSS! ;)

  16. I so totally agree! I would go even further and consign all televised/public forum bookclubs to Room 101. A book club was once an honourable, social and intellectual exercise among a close group of readers who met to discuss a chosen book. The operative words being – met and chosen.
    I put the modern media bonanzas on a par with people who think they have 1000 friends on Facebook.

  17. I worked at Barnes & Noble for several years and I have mixed feelings when it comes to her book club selections. I loved some of her choices, and hated others. If I happened to buy a book that was on her selection list, I made sure to buy a copy that did NOT have the sticker on it. (That’s just a personal preference. I also refuse to buy books that have the “Now a Major Motion Picture” cover on them. I’m weird/snooty… whatever. I’m fine with that.)

    I will say that during my stint as a bookseller, I was constantly amazed by the number of people who only bought OBC selections. There were customers who would actually say, “There’s nothing good to read. I’ve read all of Oprah’s books,” as if she was the one who actually wrote them. When I made the outlandish suggestions, “If you really liked _____, perhaps you’d like another title by the same author” I would get “you’ve got to be kidding me daggers” in return. I never did understand that reaction. It made no sense.

    The other reaction I never understood, was the returning of OBC selections. I had to deal with some people who were outraged by book Oprah told them to read. My favorite example was when a customer returned her copy of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

    Customer: I don’t know what Oprah was thinking. This book is terrible. It doesn’t even make any sense.
    Me: This one is probably my favorite of Morrison’s books. It might be because it was the first one I read, but some of her other books are hard to get through because they are so dark.
    Customer: She wrote other books?
    Me: Several. She won a Nobel Prize for literature.
    Customer: Really? Like what? What other books has she written.
    Me: Sula, Tar Baby, Beloved-
    Customer: Beloved? She wrote Beloved? I really liked Beloved.
    Me: Well. That’s the same author. Although I’m kind of surprised you liked it. I thought that one was much more difficult to read than this one.
    Customer: Oh, I never read it. I saw the movie.

    Ridiculous.

    That being said, if I were to ever publish a book, I would go along with Ron Clark’s sentiment about making her OBC. “When Oprah holds anything up to her bosom and looks into the camera and tells people to buy it, she means you’d better run out and buy it.” And several extras to give to your friends.

  18. You’re off the mark here.  I’m all for you having a strong opinion about generally ignorant people, but leave their reading profile alone.  

    I didn’t pee on a stick or drink a lot of canned beer in high school, but nonetheless, if you saw me then, I would have roughly met the image of a reluctant reader wanting to look smart.

    You might hate this story at first glance:  I went from reading formulaic Sweet Valley High books in grade school to formulaic Marion Chesney romances in high school.  When I had to read a serious book, I was only successful in the summer, when I could concentrate LONG days of my time (this is how I read The Good Earth and Rebecca).  Otherwise I fake-read mostly everything that would have helped me stretch my mind (a few books that come to mind are 100 Years of Solitude and Tess of the D’Urbervilles)  Whenever I was “lazy” and didn’t read the book, I worked hard to trick the teacher I knew what I was talking about.  But I rarely could.

    I never understood why reading came so easy to other people, but in order for me to “get it”, I was forced to read at a glacial pace.  I usually lost interest after a few chapters in.  I wanted SO much to be seen as someone who could read well that I signed up for honors classes I had no chance of succeeding in, and played the part of a slacker.

    Now, with adult-learned reading strategies, a Kindle (a device that I’m sure will change Reading classrooms due to the immediate access to vocabulary definitions)  and an understanding that I’m never going to win any awards for amount of books read, I’m reading good, strong, intricately nuanced books.

    Are people willfully ignorant?  You bet.  And go get ‘em, tiger.  But keep in mind that some of those disastrously uninformed reviews you quoted may be the work of the unwillfully ignorant.  Maybe they didn’t learn fix-up reading strategies.  Maybe they don’t have a Kindle so they get frustrated trying to read something with above level vocabulary.  Maybe they remember that Amazon review in five years, turn red with embarrassment at their ignorance (after all, reading IS something that you get better at with practice) and rush to delete it.

    Isn’t it possible?  

    By the way, just because I disagree with your rant doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking you are a lively writing voice. I’ll come back.

    • Thank you :)

      Yes, maybe–I hope–they will revisit Marquez et al and realize that utterly trashing the book and other people who liked the book was probably not the best thing. And maybe they’ll develop a real passion for reading. At which time, they will cease to be in the above category and no longer be the subject of my ranting!

  19. Loved the review of The Road – even though I loved the book. And if that Goodfellas review is a spoof, it’s very funny, if not, it’s terrifying.

    Willful ignorance is usually based on fear – as is almost everything else.

    Was The Story of O an Oprah recommendation? It has a big O on the cover. I’m off to read the reviews.

  20. God, did I love this post. I have had an argument with someone who had to PTB on Marquez’s book because of all the affairs. She just could not handle it. Really? I asked. It meanders and now the sex, she replied. The discussion went down hill from there. There was no reasoning with her. Thanks

  21. This made me laugh ALOT. I actually don’t agree with you really as I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion (ridiculous or not) and in the time of social media everyone gets a say (again – how well thought out that ‘say’ might be is another thing entirely). I do think though that with books on Amazon (and Tripadvisor) the star ratings cannot be relied on alone – the reviews behind the rating need to be read so that you can identify which should influence you personally or…. should be mentally chucked down a deep deep well. A rant is good for you once in a while though, I just had one today on my blog along different but not unrelated lines!

  22. I had to tell myself to STOP replying to everyone- this was incredibly fun to read!!!! I just want to add- people who reject art or books or food (or this very post) based on “this is STOOPID” are usually talking about themselves- the book, the art, the food- challenged them- made them feel incredibly dumb when they didn’t “get it” and generally freaked them out- feel sorry for them- and let’s hope they will keep encountering push back from people like you telling them- stop the idiocy and TRY IT AGAIN.
    I have to agree with a previous comment- Oprah needed a forum for people to bring their opinions after they read the book- isn’t that what a book club IS? But girlfriend is great at exploiting that special place in most people’s heart that says: PLEASE prove to me I am smart and cultured and with it. OOOO all I need is THIS? a thing? No actual thought required? YAAAAYYYY!”

  23. My main problem with the OBC is that used bookstores and library book sales get overwhelmed with them. One giant yearly (and, alas, defunct) used book sale I attended every year actually had one whole section dedicated to OBC selections. This was a blessing, though, because it separated them from the rest of the books, so I didn’t have to sift through 300 copies of “A Million Little Pieces.”

  24. Pingback: Book Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout | Adventures in Borkdom

  25. Pingback: Clubbin’ « Becoming Cliche

  26. Pingback: Reading Rage Tuesday: My senior English class hated The Catcher in the Rye. | Insatiable Booksluts

  27. Pingback: Sunday Morning Funnies: My respect for Barnes & Noble employees just skyrocketed. « Bridget's Books

  28. Pingback: Reading Rage Tuesday: Books that I liked (until I didn’t). | Insatiable Booksluts

Talk to us!

%d bloggers like this: