10/29/2001

Yes. The sidebar is back, although I'm not going to be using it to post extra entry-length diatribes this time around.

Random picture of the day:

Let the nice witch tell you your fortune for Halloween, kiddies. Um, kiddies? Where are you going? Why are you running away? Come back here and go into the light. Walk into the light. The light is your friend.

Currently Reading: The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub; Best American Short Stories of 2001, by lots of high art literary traditionalists; Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer.

Currently Listening To: The soundtrack to Until The End of the World. (Dreadful movie, but killer soundtrack.)

Recently Watched: Snow White, the Special Collector DVD. (Recently rooted for: The Evil StepBitchQueen. Could Snow White be any more goddamned annoying? Sheesh.)

Currently Talking About: Random reasons why we suck; whether or not we have X-rated discussions about sex with our friends.

 

 

Grate Lit-tra-tyurre.

You may have heard about the dustup between an author named Jonathan Franzen and talk-show host turned one-woman industry Oprah Winfrey. In a nutshell: Oprah selects Franzen's latest work The Corrections for her insanely popular book club; Franzen accepts the pick but then gives interviews expressing lots of writerly angst over how his book is all arty and intellectual and shit and he worries about besmirching it by having the "Oprah" logo placed on the cover and allowing his masterpiece to be placed in the grubby, bon-bon stained paws of all those dreadfully common Oprah book club readers; Oprah finds out and, God love her, tells the guy to piss up a rope. In so many words. She won't revoke her pick, but he's off the show.

I haven't found one article that encompasses all the various ways in which this situation irritated the hell out of me nor one that includes all the horribly pretentious and sexist and stupid comments from Franzen and other book snob types, but this one is a decent starting point.

I first heard about this last week and it pissed me off so much that I didn't trust myself to write about it coherently. I had to stop and think about why I was so angry. On the subject of Oprah, I'm basically neutral. I don't watch her show, nor do I read her magazine. But I don't hate her, even as Better and Smarter people insist that I should. As a grade-schooler I used to watch her co-hosting a Baltimore TV talk show. It's been kind of neat to see her transform herself from that nondescript co-host to a ridiculously wealthy and famous person. I wish I could do that.

And I know very little about Franzen, although nothing I've heard from him in this controversy makes me want to learn more. "Gosh -- I insulted Oprah and her readers and her entire book club in my interviews and she got mad about it? I honestly never expected that to happen. Gee, don't I feel awful." Bah. He's either a clueless little shit or a PR expert for the ages. I've gotten increasingly less tolerant of the Tortured Artiste type as I've gotten older. If he didn't want the exposure to the unwashed masses, he shouldn't have accepted the offer in the first place. The book was already selling really well. He didn't need the money or the publicity.

I guess all my ire boils down to this: If people are fans of the "High Art Literary Tradition" as Franzen dubbed his works, fine. Super. I've enjoyed works I believe to be of that genre myself. At least I think they were HALT. I'm not so sure now. Some of them were written by women -- Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich -- and there's been ample hinting by the lit'ry folk that books written by women can't be part of that exalted plane unless the women in question have been dead for a few hundred years.

But why do High Art Literary Traditionalists have to be so goddamn annoying and snotty about it? Lurking in various forums and watching book snobs trip all over themselves trying to explain why more people reading more books is a Bad Thing has been my major source of entertainment lately.

Book snobs are always, always taking it upon themselves to piss and moan that people just don't read enough and that the Great Unwashed would rather watch "Survivor" and "Monday Night Football" than spend a few hours with Proust and his fucking madeleines and god, what is this cold and cruel world coming to? So then surely it must be a good thing that Oprah's done a lot to encourage people to pick up a book, yes?

Oh, no. God forbid. She's on TV and she's popular, and worst of all, she's a woman and most of her viewers are women and many of the books she recommends are written by women about women. Ewww, yukkie -- how totally not Papa Hemingway, dude! And those readers of hers -- brainless sheep all. They read only what Oprah tells them to and are barely capable of understanding the subtle nuances of Pat the Bunny without help, so any "good" book Oprah assigns instantly becomes worthless trash. Because if it was really any good, it wouldn't be popular and Oprah wouldn't like it. I think that's how the reasoning goes.

Well, horseshit. The bottom line: If you like "high literary art" because you really enjoy reading it, then good. Grand. If you like it because you think it makes you a better person than people who don't like it, you're wrong. Very wrong. It just makes you incredibly annoying. And if you're the kind of person who picks a book based on what someone might think of you if they see you reading it on the Metro, you're as big of a mindless fool as you think Oprah's book club readers are.

For the record, my mother used to follow Oprah's book club pretty regularly. I don't know if she still does it, but for a while she bought many of Oprah's recommendations. Did she do that because she's a moron and needs Oprah to tell her what she should like? No, thank you very much. She did it because she's always been a voracious reader and she welcomed the new recommendations. She didn't like all of the book club picks, but she found at least one author (Ursula Hegi, Stones in the River) whose works she's actively sought out and read ever since. I'm sorry, but I just don't understand why this is a horrible, horrible thing. If you want to call my mother a mindless sheep, you can feel free to fuck off. She's smarter than you.

In other news, I spent a delightful weekend curled up on the couch reading Black House, a novel by Peter Straub and by Stephen King, a writer who is not given to gorge-turning bouts of existential angst over who's reading his books, or why. Thank God.

The next entry.

Previously, in Insomniaville...

Back to the main page.