Friday, August 27, 2010

The Literary Brouhaha

I've been perusing The Chicago Reader lately and a book review by Noah Berlatsky jumped out at me as interesting.  He was reviewing Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture, by Jim Collins. It is a decent article and in the unlikely event that I stumble across that title at a book sale in the near future, I am sure to pick it up.  But this was the part that messed me up:

"One of the book's most entertaining set pieces is his description of a class discussion he led on the brouhaha that broke out in 2001 when Oprah Winfrey chose Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections for her book club and Franzen responded by explaining, basically, that he was too cool for the room. Collins asked his grad students to watch an Oprah's Book Club segment, read Franzen's novel and some of his essays, and decide what they thought. "

I just had a great big moment of, "They didn't have toys like that when I was a kid!"

I would have loved an assignment like that when I was in school.  This is a great debate.  While I haven't read the book (there is a copy in my house somewhere, I just haven't gotten to it), I sure followed the drama.  On one hand, I think Oprah has done a great thing here - she is getting people to read books.  (You might remember a poll from a few years ago that showed one in four Americans had not read a book in the past year.  And the average American read four books in that period.)  On the other hand, I find her picks to be extremely hit-or-miss, thematically very similar (although admittedly, I haven't read a lot of them),  and I cannot sit through her actual discussions.  I get why Franzen doesn't want to be known as an "Oprah Author".  However, he behaved like an ungrateful ass.

Incidentally, when I was googling for a link to that study, I found another one in the NY Post:

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources found that 40 percent said they now read more than they did with print books.

Of course, that is theoretically a segment of the population that is pre-disposed to read alot.  But the study said "e-reader owners", not "people that have purchased e-readers".  So it might be a reason to gift it!

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