Reading Oprah book coverby Cecilia Konchar Farr
State University of New York Press, November 4, 2004

This is an interesting little book. Even though it's written by a full professor (at St. Catherine's College in St. Paul, Minnesota), it seems almost like a dissertation. A really good dissertation, but a dissertation. I think the short length is part of the reason, but part of it is also Farr's willingness to take up a topic that, as she admits, more "serious" scholars have avoided.

And, she thinks (and so do I), avoided to their detriment. Oprah's Book Club has been an amazing force, and one worth studying. Farr does a great job of it, too, associating the Book Club not only within contemporary American consumer and talk show culture, but within the history of the novel and the book group as well. She's obviously done her homework, making insightful comments both on the books that have been chosen and on the shows that were dedicated to them, and I agree with 99% of the insights she provides.

She also provides, as an appendix, a complete list of the books Oprah took on in the first six years (her "regular" book club, before she started with the classic stuff she's doing now). She analyzes the choices and argues that many of them are good books, no matter what any book club critic says. She goes into the Jonathan Franzen incident as well, and unsurprisingly comes out on Oprah's side.

One criticism I do have is that Farr didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked answering the book club's critics. When she did, she rightly pointed out the classism in their criticism, and touched on the racism, but shyed away from the gendered element, at least more than I thought she should have. She does point out how many of the books Oprah chose are from female authors, previously unknown authors, and minority authors, though, which is good.

For anyone who is interested in Oprah's Book Club, the history of the novel, or just reading a short, well-done cultural study, I'd recommend this one.

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