by Marcus Sakey
One word for you: Oprah.
On Wednesday, Lady O. announced her latest book club selection, and it's a doozy: Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD (incidentally, one of two finalists in The Tournament of Books).
I should begin by saying that I think McCarthy is one of the finest writers working today, and that I loved THE ROAD. It's not my favorite of his--I prefer BLOOD MERIDIAN, even if, as Stephen King pointed out in ON WRITING, there are great wacks of it I don't fully understand. But favorite or no, THE ROAD is terrific: bleak, haunting, and chillingly effective in its juxtaposition of a delicate flame of love against a world of icy-cold winds.
Still, I have to admit, Oprah threw me for a loop with this one. It's not that the books she selects aren't good; almost without exception, they are, and most are downright spectacular. Nor are they sweetness and light (by and large), or, god help us, entitled THE SECRET. (That retching sound you just heard? Me.)
But I have to think that THE ROAD is going to startle some of her readers. Though I suppose that's the point, right? To open people to new books, new experiences, things they might not have picked up on their own. And boy, does she open them, at least their wallets--being selected for Oprah's Book Club is an automatic route to bestsellerdom, good for moving a million copies.
Yet many people, both readers and writers alike, seem to feel a lot of ire towards her for it. Scorn and jokes abound. Her picks are frequently dismissed. And I remember people thinking Jonathan Franzen came off cool for rebuffing her--when he should have been on hands and knees rubbing her feet and asking which of car she'd like him to wax first.
Is it just her name? The Oprah label, suggestive of a day spent watching empowerment-oriented television, of chicken soup for our collective souls? Or is it something deeper? Do we hate the success that accompanies it?
When--and why--did it become a bad thing to be an Oprah Book?