I would be remiss, I suppose, if I did not acknowledge Oprah’s announcement last week that in 2011 she will be ending her run as Talk Show Queen of the Universe. Well, at least ending it in it’s current format on CBS – she is starting up her own cable channel, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), where it is presumed by many that she will host a new version of a talk show. But where does this leave the Oprah Book Club, I ask?
As a voracious reader by night and an independent bookseller by day, I have long had a love/hate thing going on with Oprah and her book selections. (For a good time, read the debate sparked on the Catapult by the Cormac pick in ’07) I have voiced a teensy little bit of resentment over her ability to force the hand of the book world so mightilly – out of pure self-preservation, we have to purchase her selections in advance of her announcements without knowing what the book will be. How do you know you won’t get saddled with 50 copies of something crappy that no one wants to read? A moot point, really, as every book she has ever picked has done well enough to justify the numbers purchased. Her current Club pick, Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan has had modest sales, at best, although infinitely better than it had prior to O’s involvement. The bottom line is – and this is a little hard for me to admit – Oprah gets people to read books, even if the snobby bookseller that I am resents the selections she makes – at least people are buying and reading.
So where will the industry land after O removes herself from the discourse?
Part of my Op-resentment has always had to do with her ability to get people to listen to her, unconditionally, and read the books she suggests, without questioning taste, either hers or theirs. Deep down inside, this is what every bookseller hopes for, but never achieves – if I were Oprah, Cloud Atlas would be a number one bestseller. So I’m just bitter. But, I will miss her when she’s gone – unless, of course, she continues her book club selections on her new network, in which case, I will continue to harbor my mild resentment. But if not, who will step up to tell the people what to read??! Hello? Is this thing on?
Honestly, this couldn’t have come at a worse time for the indie bookseller – I suppose that if Oprah announced that she had purchased a Kindle…that might be worse. Indies are trying to stay relevant in a world where the local marketplace is dwindling rapidly and more & more of our consumable goods are purchased from warehouse stores who only operate in cyberspace. Sadly, in this new world economy and electronic culture, we booksellers need someone – an advocate of sorts – to tell the people to read more books. Books made with paper and glue, sweat and ink. Is the independent bookseller that advocate? On a small, local scale, I’d certainly like to think so, but nationally….?
So, I don’t have any answers to offer up in this post, just a lamentation for the possible dissolving of the only book club that pays my bills and recognizes the value of a simple book recommendation.