Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Book bloggin' Part I: Oprah ruins Americans' summers

With a good reading-group leader, they'll make it through As I Lay Dying. And they'll make it through Light in August. But they're going to start The Sound and the Fury and say, 'What is this?' (feigns throwing a book over shoulder)
--Richard Howarth, mayor of Oxford, MS, William Faulkner's hometown
Last week, Oprah Winfrey picked the above three William Faulkner novels as her summer reading choices. I appreciate her attempt to produce a more literate America, but five minutes with The Sound and the Fury may cause readers to gouge out their own eyes, thereby limiting themselves forever to audiobooks and books written in Braille.

Sure, everyone has their masochistic literary tastes. I'm a huge Thomas Hardy fan, and Fyodor Dostoevsky is my ever-lovin' sweetheart (literarily speaking, of course). But I wouldn't suggest to my audience of millions--er, dozens--that they should lug The Brothers Karamazov or Jude the Obscure to the beach (although Jude would fit in the sveltest of beach bags, if you're interested).

One has to wonder if Oprah is compensating for what Jonathan Franzen insinuated were her questionable literary tastes, after he rudely rebuffed her choice of his own novel The Corrections for her book club. Last year Oprah recommended Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and millions of copies flew off the shelves, resulting in bruises, concussions, and countless cases of shoulder tendonitis. How many people actually read all 838 pages has yet to be determined.

A group of contemporary authors has recently written Oprah to ask her to please start recommending books by writers who still draw oxygen. We need the sales, and for many writers her book club was the difference between languishing forever in anonymity and languishing forever next to an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Anyway, reviewer Jesse Kornbluth has some alternate suggestions for easing your way into Faulkner's inscrutable little world. But if you'd like to enjoy your summer, the Washington Post Book World just released its editors' picks for best books of the season.

I'm excited about The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan. Last year I listened to O'Nan's Night Country on tape, and it ranks as one of my favorite Halloween-related experiences ever. I've also heard good things about Pearl by Mary Gordon. Two of my favorites, Bebe Moore Campbell and John Irving, have new novels appearing in July.

Will I be reading any of these? Nope. As a Jeri-come-lately to the world of fantasy, I've got several decades of that genre's classics to catch up on, as well as keeping on with new trends. But I couldn't resist Loving Soren by Caroline Coleman O'Neill, about the woman who tried to save my favorite philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, from himself. I'll let you know how that goes.


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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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