Oprah has picked Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful and haunting The Road for her book club. I was over at Amazon.com looking at the message board for the new paperback edition of The Road and was struck by some posts attacking Oprah and the intelligence of her viewers. This is very sad. Oprah has promoted the reading of fiction and classic literature in general more than any one person in a generation. For this, she deserves the gratitude of serious readers everywhere. Has she always picked the best books? No. Who could? Has she picked some great ones? Yes, undoubtedly (exhibit A: The Poisonwood Bible; exhibit B: The Corrections, despite it falling through later; exhibit c: One Hundred Years of Solitude; exhibit d: Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and others). And Oprah uses her power for good, selecting books that should be read by everybody, such as Elie Wiesel’s Night. Yes, Oprah is a powerhouse brand name, and as such, it may be hard to support her without feeling like you are selling out to some kind of mass media Wal-Mart. (The whole Jonathan Franzen fiasco touched on this, of course.) The cult of personality surrounding Oprah also turns off many snobs. But let’s give credit where credit is due before we get all self-congratulatory about our superiority as arbiters of high culture.
Oprah has picked a great book by one of our greatest living authors for the most successful and effective book advertising venture in recent, and not-so-recent memory. Even if the tiniest fraction of her readers really like the book and start reading more of McCarthy’s books, Oprah will has done a great service to the reading public. In an age of internet and snide know-it-alls who post snotty comments on Amazon.com about the “stupid minions” of Oprah (translation: women), Oprah is humble enough to love a book, any book, and then use her influence to simply say, “Read it.” That trumps fools and trolls any day. Credit where credit is due. She’s earned it.
I may sound like a hardcore Oprah fan. I’m not. I may give the impression that I think all criticisms of her book club are inappropriate. I do not. What I think is that any serious reader who worries about the future of books and reading in our society needs to recognize Oprah’s contribution and treat her with a modicum of respect. As a teacher of literature, I want more people to love reading and I thank Oprah for doing so much to promote reading and good books.
I close with a few words about Oprah’s selection. The Road is a grim, gripping and sometimes terrifying book, but it is also one of McCarthy’s most loving and tender. The novel captures the troubled subconscious of our fearful present (growing awareness and worry about environmental disaster; our fears about terrorism…basically feeling out of control and helpless in a world gone crazy) but it is also an homage to the regenerative power of love and filial relationships. It is a nightmare with something to cathartic and cleansing to hang on to at the end. Good choice Oprah. Good choice.