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Happy Friday, dear readers!

Is anyone else delighted that the week has finally come to an end? As strange as it sounds, I need to recharge from my retreat.

There’s a lot of buzz in book world right now. Rumor has it that Oprah Winfrey will announce Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom as her last book club pick on today’s show. Other writers are a tad ticked about this, for two reasons:

  1. In 2001, Oprah chose Franzen’s The Corrections as her pick, only to drop the offer once she saw that he’d insulted her, her audience, and her overall choice of literature in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  2. Franzen is not a man who needs help selling books. The New York Times gave Freedom a glowing review. Amazon ratings of the book are currently #1 in Fiction and Literature and #5 in Books. The Corrections, which was his third novel, won a National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Oprah has often selected authors that many of us had never heard of before. She gave a huge boost to the careers of Wally Lamb, Elizabeth Berg, and Edwidge Danticat, to name a few. Being an “Oprah Pick” was every writer’s dream (well, every writer except Jonathan Franzen, apparently). As much as people love to make fun of her, I used to pick up one of her choices whenever I was looking for a new author, and I was never disappointed.

It’s not surprising that new, struggling authors are decrying the selection of Franzen’s already bestselling work as the last Oprah Book Club pick. What is surprising is how many bestselling authors have sour grapes. Jennifer Wiener, who is one of my favorite authors of women’s fiction, bemoans Oprah’s pick on her Facebook Page. “So Oprah picks FREEDOM,” she writes. Feels kind of inevitable. Also feels kind of like giving a winning lottery ticket to the guy who’s collected the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.”

But Wiener has no problem selling books, either, so (with all due respect, cause I love her) what’s she whining about?

In spite of what anyone may say about Oprah’s ego, I love her for getting people excited about books again. She hasn’t always chosen the undiscovered–what about Anna Karenina or 100 Years of Solitude? Not exactly unknown books. As far as I’m concerned, she can select whatever book she wants. The only sadness in this choice for me is the fact that Franzen slammed her choices, sneered at her audience, and intimated that his book was “too good” for her. So, in response, not one but two of his books are selected? If he’s such an insufferable snob, let him enjoy his success without Oprah’s help.

What do you think, dear readers? Have you read Franzen’s books? Are they deserving of all the accolades? Should Oprah have chosen something different for her last pick? Do Oprah’s selections have any bearing on what you read?

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  1. Katie Alender

    I feel half like Oprah can do whatever she wants (and will, of course) and half like this is a decision made because of all the reasons you cited. Oprah wants to be relevant just like the rest of us, so choosing a book with a lot of buzz behind it is one way to make sure her name is out there mingling with the current events.

    She’s already established a love/hate dynamic with Franzen, so she can’t really lose this way.

  2. Story Teller

    Hmm…good point, Katie. Thanks for your comment, and for being here. I really appreciate it.

    Do you think she should have chosen someone lesser known?

  3. Katie Alender

    No, I don’t think so. I don’t have a problem with what she chooses for her own show. Would it have been nice? Yeah, sure! But it’s the Oprah Winfrey Show, not the Helping Authors Show.

    (And honestly, if she had chosen someone else, I’m sure many people would find a way to be bitter about it!)

  4. Story Teller

    Ha ha! So true, Katie. So true!

  5. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I’m a little disappointed with this pick, though I couldn’t tell you exactly what I wanted her to choose instead. Maybe I was hoping for a new/new to me author I could fall in love with like I did with a lot of her earlier choices (love Wally Lamb!)

  6. Story Teller

    Hi Madeline! Thanks for commenting. I expected a lot more discussion around this topic, since it’s currently burning up the web.

    I hear you. I liked her earlier picks, too, although it was nice that she got some of the classics reissued in new, cheaper additions. An added bonus of O’s Book Club.

    I love Lamb, too. Currently reading his new book, “The Hour I First Believed”.

  7. kungfusinger

    Hi Holli,

    A few years ago I tried to read some of the Oprah picks, but mostly I found them to be both boring and depressing. I gave up on them after that, though I did enjoy “Where the Heart Is.” For the most part I now just avoid the “O” books.

  8. Cat Connor

    I honestly don’t care what book Oprah picks. Could be because I’m a kiwi author and we’re way behind with her shows anyway. (And I don’t watch, haven’t done for many many years.)

    Or it could be because the few books I have known she’s picked were really not my thing and the whole book club thing with character guides etc feels like a high school English lesson.

  9. Perri

    It really does surprise me– You’d think Oprah wouldn’t want to mess with Franzen again. But then, any publicity is good publicity and the choice certainly gets people talking.

    I haven’t read “Freedom” yet, but I loved “The Corrections”. Franzen has this amazing ability to take rather unlikable characters and make them so understandable that you are still interested… and maybe could forgive them all there flaws.

    Also, it’s refreshing to see a book that is less plot or hook driven become such a big hit.

  10. Story Teller

    @ kungfusinger – Sorry to hear about your bad “O” experience. I’ve had great luck with her books, for the most part.

    @ Cat – you mean there’s actually a part of the world where Oprah’s influence doesn’t quite reach? Color me shocked!

    I think the high school English lesson feel is because she’s trying to turn people who haven’t picked up a book since high school into adult readers. Her book club isn’t geared to people like you and I, who read all the time.

    @ Perri – welcome back, and thanks for commenting. I don’t want to read Franzen just on principle, for being such a jerk, but maybe I’ll get one of his books out of the library. 🙂 Thanks for your insight. It’s great to open up a topic like this to discussion.

  11. Kim

    You know I really haven’t done much with Oprah’s picks since the whole James Fray “Million Little Pieces” fiasco. I didn’t particularily like the attack she brought on him. I watched the show where he came back on and she layed into him and and I could barely look at the screen I was so embarrassed. I didn’t really care if he had changed a few details from reality, the heart and core of that book was true and it was brilliantly written.

    The whole “New Earth” phase was a bit much too. Sometimes she hits it bang on and sometimes she sucks onto a trend (kinda like her weight and her hair and her style). She is a woman with a lot of power and I admire her for that but she is also a money making corporation.

  12. Story Teller

    Thanks for your insight, Kim. I think Oprah lost more face by attacking James Frey than she did by insisting his book was true. To me, she reacted from her emotions – feeling humiliated – instead of calmly thinking through how that show was going to make her look.

    What was the New Earth phase? I missed that one.

  13. Kim

    Eckhart Tole. A New Earth. That series of books about spiritual awakening and living in the moment. That’s about all the substantive detail I can give but she had weekly online classes about it.

  14. Story Teller

    Sounds like she went too far, as she did with her Oprah angel movement. Her heart’s in the right place, though.


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