After several years of literary dormancy, Oprah has decided to pick up another book and champion it to her numerous minions or followers or whatever.
That woman wants people to damn well read books and she is going to tell you which ones she likes and that is how bestsellers have been made for the past twenty years or so.
Woman’s got a system for getting people to buy a frigging book, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
If Oprah did nothing else but get people to buy books, that in fact would be a great legacy.
Not everyone is out there just being a guru with bazillions of adoring fans and then encouraging those fans to buy books instead of some stank perfume you made with a picture of yourself on the bottle.
Unfortunately, No Smashing of Seat-Neighbours’ Faces
Though Oprah has her own network now, there seem to be some growing pains. It didn’t burst onto the scene and make a big splash.
It isn’t playing out like an episode of Oprah’s Favourite Things, with people breaking down doors and smashing their seat-neighbours’ faces and tearing their own ragged shirts from their bodies out of excitement that they are getting new shirts made of solid gold threads that massage you and make your boobs look perky like new again.
Ratings haven’t been up to The Oprah Winfrey Show level and there hasn’t been a breakout show.
Going back to the book club, a staple of the old Oprah scene and something that brings people together, in a very Oprah-ish way, is actually a great idea.
It’s smart, solid and will most likely generate attention as all her book club picks have before.
People look to Oprah for books and she provides them with book titles and that level of trust is not to be tampered with, because the Oprahites are devoted to her and they made her the media maven she is today.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The title she chose for her comeback is Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
It’s a memoir; an astoundingly well-written, gorgeous book about a young women who loses a mother and a marriage and with no prior training decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
The book is fantastic.
This book is getting all kinds of stellar attention. Wild has already been optioned by Reese Witherspoon and will likely be made into a film starring whoever the younger version of Reese Witherspoon is now.
Or even someone a bit edgier, say Emma Stone (please pick Emma Stone and please don’t say the new anyone is Blake Lively), and will hopefully become something as great as the book itself.
A piece of art that will make even more people read the book.
Wild is sickly deserving of all praise and attention. And yet now I worry. That all this attention will somehow diminish the power of the book.
Not because praise and fame and attention take away the fact that the book is great, but that some hoighty-toighty, pretentious literary backlash will occur, rendering the book mere fluff when in fact it’s so much more.
The Oprah Machine Comes from a Different Place
After discovering Cheryl was The Rumpus’ advice columnist, Dear Sugar, well after a friend figured it out and told me to read her heartbreaking piece about her mother’s death in The Sun, I loved following her every move.
Twitter, Facebook, every backlogged Dear Sugar post. I became a devotee.
I turned into a mini-Oprah, insisting people read her novel. I linked the Dear Sugar columns in emails, on social media, probably in my sleep.
The Oprah machine comes from a different place than the Twitter machine, than The Rumpus machine.
It’s sending a different message. It’s transforming the way we think about a book.
Hives Swell Under My Eyeballs
The book remains unchanged. The book remains as powerful and beautiful as ever, but the marketing kind of stresses me out.
Every time I see something called “Book Club Questions” I start to get sweaty and hives swell under my eyeballs.
I know it’s good that people are talking about books and especially this extremely moving and poignant and funny and smart book that is deserving of all the discussion in the world.
I also know that I’m sneering like a jerk whenever I see that sticker, those discussion topics, and all the tweets, tweets, tweets.
So yes, it’s great that people are going to read Wild. That Strayed, a woman who’s struggled to pay the bills, who writes, for free no less, the best (and best written), most insightful advice column ever will now be properly financially compensated for her efforts and talent.
I don’t think anyone deserves this praise more than she does.
An Oprah Sticker Changes Things
But an Oprah sticker changes things for certain kinds of readers. It’s a fact.
We judge. We assume. We think we’re getting a shoddier product. And yet, for every person who dumps on that sticker, there are even more who pick up that title because of it.
Hard truth. Those who loved it “before it got big,” aren’t any better than those finding out through Oprah’s site. Those are just people who just happened to know about this one particular amazing book before some other people did.
But Strayed or Sugar would tell the haters to get over themselves and find the truth in the book. The writing is the important thing, and she’s already done that work, and that work is beautiful.
Like with so many other things we’re being sold, we have to look past the hype and product placement and gleam and just read the words in front of our eyes.