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A Dialectic With the Everyday: Communication & Cultural Politics on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club
Unformatted Document Text:  Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 23 suspect it may have been at least partly a function of the book’s “escapist” tenor. The book’s deeply tragic conclusion – the five principal characters wind up either dead or imprisoned – may have further reinforced this sense of disconnect. House of Sand and Fog may have upset these readers because it failed to tell a story that resonated sufficiently with their own experiences and daily lives. Because the book completely lacks any “triumphant” characters with whom Book Club members could identify, that is to say, it offered scant resources for them to work through specific challenges in their own lives. 14 Conclusion: Intractable Alchemies Critics of Oprah’s Book Club often are at a loss to explain how a “stark, ambiguous German novel” like Bernhard Schlinck’s The Reader could sit side-by-side in the Oprah’s Book Club catalog with Breena Clarke’s River, Cross My Heart, which one journalist derided as “a poorly written, sentimental novel from a diversity bureaucrat at Time, Inc” (McNett, 1999, n. p.) – let alone four selections by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Author Jonathan Franzen expressed a similar sense of dismay when he publicly divulged his misgivings about Winfrey’s selecting his highly acclaimed novel, The Corrections, for the Book Club in September 2001. Winfrey has “picked some good books,” Franzen remarked upon hearing the news, “but she’s picked enough schmaltzy, one- dimensional ones that I cringe myself, even if I think she’s really smart and she’s really fighting the good fight” (qtd. in Kirkpatrick, 2001, p. C4). Franzen worried, in other words, that so-called “serious readers” might cease taking his book, well, seriously, given its association with a host of books of putatively lesser aesthetic caliber. 15 These and other critics repeatedly have thrown their hands in the air trying to explain how “high art” so easily could commingle with “popular culture,” not to mention how millions of Oprah viewer/readers were unfazed by this seeming contradiction. Yet the critics’ bewilderment turns on a category mistake; “high art” and “popular culture” were not sacrosanct on Oprah’s Book Club. Within the context of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey, the producers, and the membership of the

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club
23
suspect it may have been at least partly a function of the book’s “escapist” tenor. The book’s deeply
tragic conclusion – the five principal characters wind up either dead or imprisoned – may have further
reinforced this sense of disconnect. House of Sand and Fog may have upset these readers because it
failed to tell a story that resonated sufficiently with their own experiences and daily lives. Because the
book completely lacks any “triumphant” characters with whom Book Club members could identify,
that is to say, it offered scant resources for them to work through specific challenges in their own
lives.
14
Conclusion: Intractable Alchemies
Critics of Oprah’s Book Club often are at a loss to explain how a “stark, ambiguous German
novel” like Bernhard Schlinck’s The Reader could sit side-by-side in the Oprah’s Book Club catalog
with Breena Clarke’s River, Cross My Heart, which one journalist derided as “a poorly written,
sentimental novel from a diversity bureaucrat at Time, Inc” (McNett, 1999, n. p.) – let alone four
selections by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Author Jonathan Franzen expressed a
similar sense of dismay when he publicly divulged his misgivings about Winfrey’s selecting his highly
acclaimed novel, The Corrections, for the Book Club in September 2001. Winfrey has “picked some
good books,” Franzen remarked upon hearing the news, “but she’s picked enough schmaltzy, one-
dimensional ones that I cringe myself, even if I think she’s really smart and she’s really fighting the
good fight” (qtd. in Kirkpatrick, 2001, p. C4). Franzen worried, in other words, that so-called “serious
readers” might cease taking his book, well, seriously, given its association with a host of books of
putatively lesser aesthetic caliber.
15
These and other critics repeatedly have thrown their hands in the air trying to explain how
“high art” so easily could commingle with “popular culture,” not to mention how millions of Oprah
viewer/readers were unfazed by this seeming contradiction. Yet the critics’ bewilderment turns on a
category mistake; “high art” and “popular culture” were not sacrosanct on Oprah’s Book Club.
Within the context of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey, the producers, and the membership of the


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