Friday, September 17, 2010

WWOP and Fun Fiction

WWOP for her book club swan song? (WWOP=What Would Oprah Pick).  As I write this post on Friday, devoted Oprah Book Club fans, authors, and most of all book retailers and publishers, all of whom had been poised in a heady froth of anticipation and speculation, now know the title Oprah chose for her very last book club:  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (and really does this book need any more media frenzy? As I said in an earlier post, I have to agree with Weiner and Picoult about this very topic). 

I am really very disappointed, Oprah.  I was hoping that you would embrace something different.  Now, Oprah, this isn't because Franzen turned down the honor of letting his last book, The Corrections, becoming a 2001 book club is it?  A way to see that they all crawl back eventually give in to your very substantial medial power?  In my humble opinion, Franzen's "thanks but no thanks" to you in 2001, was fairly snarky and condescending not only to your talk show queen self but to the reading public that embraces Oprah's picks.

I always got the impression that Franzen thought us ordinary folks lacked the proper appreciation of (and dare I say the capacity to appreciate?) literary fiction.  I got this impression from his interviews, such as his interview with NPR's Terry Gross in 2001 and even a recent one with All Things Considered Guy Raz, where he managed to display a good deal of patronizing disdain for "regular" fiction.  He also displays a shocking lack of any sense of humor, perhaps the bigger crime in my book!  As much as Franzen might deny it, Freedom is really a book in the classic "Oprah Book Club Book"style.   

Jonathan Franzen has nothing on me, I am pretty snarky about all of this myself.  Is it because I am disappointed she did not choose one of my predictions (Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza; Room by Emma Donoghue; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee-what an excellent discussion this could have been!) and I will have to live with being mocked by my fellow members of the library staff?  Of course!  Or is it because every time I hear the title, and you know we will be hearing about it, of Franzen's book the George Michael song starts playing in my head?  Most definitely - horrible 1980s flashbacks!   

 Perhaps the root of my snarkiness might lie in a long term criticism I have had of Oprah and her Book Club.  While I heartily applaud her for getting people to read books they they may never have tried and for generating tons of excitement about books and reading in general (and in specific titles and authors) I think that her choices ultimately perpetuate the myth that books are only "worthy enough" to be read if they are "serious literature".  I think that this ties in to a social stereotype that people hold about books, and by extension libraries, as being parts of elitist institutions. Patrons have even said to me, when I am offering reading suggestions to them,  "I am not smart enough to read that book or that author."
 Usual Perception
I think that anyone can read anything but that we all have different tastes and interests and we might not want to read literary fiction or get the same things from the same book.  All of this is okay!  Differences in abilities and tastes are good!  Just once I wish she could have picked a book that is fun-good, fluffy, enjoyable fun.  If Oprah would have done this, would lots of Americans have then come out of the closet (where they store their mass market paperbacks) and admit that they love romance, thriller, adventure, and mystery books?  Would the New York Times then start reviewing chick lit?  Nirvana!

Since I strongly believe that it is okay to read for fun, this week I would like to recommend some of my favorite fun read authors.  Okay, may I confess that I just got the irony of the situation and realize I am doing the same thing, "making suggestions from on high", one of the very things I criticized Oprah for.  But to have her power, I promise, I would only use it for good.
One of my favorite "funny" authors that I read is Christopher Moore.  Now, he may not be an author that all would find funny because Moore writes in a delightfully warped way that I really enjoy.  Death becomes funny in A Dirty Job; King Lear becomes a comedy in Fool; and you will not find an angsty vampire anywhere in his Love Story Series, although you will find a vampire cat. I just love what he said about Stephenie Meyer:  "Her vampires are sparkly, which I think we can all agree is wrong." (Snarky again!).

 Douglas Adams shares Moore's ironic view of existence in his epic, and especially funny, science fiction series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Series.  Adams and Moore could even be the intellectual children of Kurt Vonnegut's school of writing because like him they are also masters at using absurd humor to comment on the human condition and society.  Flannery O'Conner was also a master at this, although I never quite laugh as much or as loud when I read her books-much more introspective laughs (i.e. I did not laugh until I cried). 
There are just so many authors that can make you laugh!  I love reading  Sarah Bird and Ben Rehder and their takes on Central Texas and beyond; Carl Hiaasen, who I only recently began reading, has a great sense of what I would call broad comical farce and Tim Dorsey writes similar novels.   Jasper Fforde is another one of my personal favorites, I love his Thursday Next Series, as are Nick Hornby and Jonathan Miles.    Some of the funniest books I read are my beloved chick lit and Regency Romances, particularly authors that I frequently mentioned: The Two Jennifers, Cruise and Weiner, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Marian Keyes, and Julia Quinn.  Nonfiction writes can also make you laugh, two of my favorites are Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris. 
Happy Reading and Laughing This Week,

1 comment: