Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, August 16, 2010

Speaking of the hype machine . . .

Right now I am reading a book that is marred by Oprah's symbol. The Dork's post about the hype machine brought my irritation about it to the forefront of my mind.

I resent the power Oprah holds over the publishing industry. No one person should be allowed so much muscle. I really don't have a problem with her as a human, other than the worrisome fact that so many people seem to think her opinion is golden. I prefer to think that Paul the Octopus is a better arbiter of good taste.

I will acknowledge, however grudgingly, that she (or her minions) have picked some good books, but her endorsement has a negative effect on me. That big "O" on the front of a book tends to repel me rather than attracting me. I don't mind so much when she chooses a classic (not the least because it's fairly easy to find a copy without her endorsement printed on the cover) but, with the newer books she has chosen, I am more likely to pass over one she has marked and pick up one she has ignored.

That said, I must admit I have found myself reading quite a few of "her" books (and I'm afraid the other half may be on my TBR list). Not on purpose, of course, although I'm sure that in some sneaky underhanded way my choice was related to hers--meaning, perhaps I heard about a book merely because of the notice it received in her hype machine. I also do like the idea that perhaps she has persuaded some non-readers to pick up a book. But that doesn't make the whole idea much less distasteful to me.

How do you feel about the Big O? (I mean, of course,  the one on the cover of so many books.)


Greg Zimmerman said...

For me, the Big O is a non-consideration, though bordering on a negative. I just try to remember that a book was what it was BEFORE she picked it, and judge it that way - as I did for The Corrections and Edgar Sawtelle (two novels I'd read and enjoyed before she picked them).

A long time ago, (in fact, my second ever New Dork post), I posted about the Big O phenomenon - here it is if you're interested:

And thanks for the linkage!

KarenG said...

I totally totally agree with you here. Oprah is great at what she does but come on, putting her mark on a book can make it a very undeserved bestseller. I've read two and almost threw up they were so awful. Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks this woman has too much power, but hey who gave it to her? The public. And no, I do NOT watch her show. But if she asked me to be a guest I wouldn't say no! Or if she picked my book for a choice, I'd faint with happiness.

joemmama said...

I make it a point to avoid the O. If it is available from a used book site, or an English foreign edition, I will order it. My friends and family know never to give me an O book! I have been very put off by her adding her name to any book she did not write, or publish.

Allie said...

I have had good and bad experiences. With the whole James Frey debacle, I stayed away from all of her recommendations. But I recently read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" which had a big O on the cover. I surprisingly loved the book.

I think from now on I'll just ignore the O if it is a book I genuinely want to read. But like you, i really don't like the hype associated with her book club. Just because she, or her minions, thinks that a book is good is no reason for something less than stellar to earn fame.

Brenna said...

I'm going to agree with you that anything with the Oprah stamp more often than not repels me. However, as far as her effect on the publishing world, I think in a time when people are buying less books and going to more movies, or reading ebooks for free online rather than paying to download them onto their ereader, the publishing industry needs someone like Oprah. Someone who can sway people who wouldn't normally buy more than one book a year to buy a few more. Do I think it's a good thing she has so much influence? No. Do I think she is something that the publishing industry needs right now? Yes.

Rachel said...

I agree. It repels me. Oprah annoys the heck out of me anyway, but I hate how if she says a book is good people flock to buy it. That said, I have read a few books with the 'big o' on the cover and I enjoyed them.

Theresa Milstein said...

I just came over from KarenG's blog. Like you, I don't like when the O is on the book. My husband won't buy the book unless the sticker will be removed. For those authors it has helped, I'm sure they love her endorsement. (Well, maybe not James Frey.) But I think it's unfair that one person has so much power.

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I don't go out and try and read her recommended her books - but my experience is that every book she has recommended - I have loved.

I don't know if we just have the same taste in books or what it is - but there you have it. I can't remember ever disliking a book that Oprah has recommended.

We were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates and Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver both come to mind immediately - brilliant books.

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I read about half of Oprah's recommendations in the early 2000's, but after a while found many of her books a bit depressing.

You have a lovely blog; I'll be back.

Kathy said...

Greg--that is a good perspective to take. It's probably unfair of me to pass over a book just because Oprah has "tainted" it. Enjoyed reading your take on the phenomenon!

Karen--I know if I were a writer I would probably get on my knees and pray every night for that golden ticket! How's that for a double standard?

Joemmama--I'm just like you--I much prefer an edition without the "O"!

Allie and Becky--I honestly can't recall ever disliking an "O" book, which kind of seems to knock the legs out from under my argument, or at least causes it to be somewhat less rational.

Brenna--I really hadn't thought about it that way before. I wish it could be someone or something else in that position--you know, like maybe an entity that I respect.

Rachel--me too! All of it!

Theresa--thanks for visiting! I bet you're right--from a "chosen" author's perspective, it must be akin to winning the lottery. I bet even Jonathan Franzen had to admit it wasn't so bad when he started to see the numbers come in (though he may never have said so out loud).

BBtS--I hadn't realized it, but I think you're right about a lot of her books being depressing. Maybe that's a requirement for her to consider something Serious Literature. Thanks for the compliment!

Ordinary Reader said...

I completely agree with you. The O on the cover will send me looking for something else. She has too much influence on the publishing world and on our whole society. I don't resent the benefits it has for the authors she promotes, but as someone else said I just don't think any one person should have the power over people that she has and seems to enjoy wielding. It feels almost "rebellious" now to buy something Oprah hasn't approved. My world is "Oprah free" and I like it that way.

Palindrome said...

I understand the aversion towards books with Oprah stickers but hey, she's getting people to read. And getting them to read things they wouldn't normally. I can't be mad at her for that. Whatever gets people buying books because books are awesome and enthusiasm over books should be contagious. Great post!

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

Stopped watching the show a few years ago (except for the makeover shows) but I've always admired Oprah. Never read one of her books though-- I always figured they were the emotionally contrived books for crying over and I usually don't read that kind. Sounds like they might just be a drag if they are depressing as ya'll say. I'm am usually anti-hype but I'm also contrary so now I'm feeling anti the anti-hype so I might just have to read one. ;o)

Kathy said...

Dianne--I love that you've declared your world an "Oprah Free" zone--that's hilarious. But at the same time I can't help but think it's a near impossibility, at least here in the US. She seems so pervasive!

Hannah--You are right, of course. I just wish it could be someone who wasn't blindly followed by so large a flock of sheeple. The only person who might annoy me more in the role of Book Queen is Martha Stewart. Of course my entire opinion is mostly based on observations of my mother-in-law, who would probably eat her own children if either of those two ladies suggested it. (OK, so I may be exaggerating a bit.)

Lesa--You haven't read an Oprah book? I thought Delynne said you've read everything! ;) Seriously, though, I'd be curious to know if you've read one without realizing it. (I had never looked at the actual list until I was writing this post, and there were some I was surprised to find there.)

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

Ha-- the report of my books read is an exaggeration!

And I stand corrected! I've read East of Eden, the Good Earth, Pillars of the Earth and I am almost positive that I read Anna Karenina-- I alway say I've read it but I actually don't remember-- guess I am a literary amnesiac too! I thought Oprah's books were newish didn't know she had moved into promoting classics-- that is pretty cool!

Kathy said...

Lesa--Isn't it great to find you can successfully express your anti-anti-hype feelings with no new effort or extra contortions?

I speculate that if Oprah had endorsed all/only classics I wouldn't have found that it bothered me.

Mary said...

I read all the classics on her list and did it long before she felt it necessary to approve them.
To be honest her "O" and her opinion mean nothing to me.


Kathy said...

Mary--it is heartening to know you are not one of the sheeple. I wish you could teach my mother-in-law a thing or two. ;)