stuff I read

Reading With Oprah

I recently finished Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America by Kathleen Rooney. Rooney evaluated Oprah’s Book Club in terms of the cultural impact of the club as well as the various criticisms of the OBC. The discussion of “high-“vs. “low-brow” culture was very interesting as well as the definition of “truthiness” as it pertains to the James Frey debacle. Rooney included extensive quotes and opinions from many of the OBC selected authors – she sent a questionnaire asking about the authors’ personal feelings about the OBC and the inclusion of their work on the show (even Jonathan Franzen responded).

Say what you want about Oprah’s Book Club but it did get hundreds of thousands, millions, maybe, of people to read a work of fiction. Even people who professed to not have read anything after high school graduation went out and bought Fall on Your Knees or The Poisonwood Bible or Sula and many other titles, one after the other. The 63 selections are mostly wonderful works of literary fiction and I’ve read twelve of the selections myself.

But not because I follow the OBC. Or watch “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. In truth I am far from Oprah’s target audience. My mother never watched daytime television so I never picked up the habit; I’m never home during the afternoon and don’t feel the need to tape anything during the day to watch once I drag myself back home at night. Instead, I read (in this way I am more like Oprah herself, who claims to read in the evenings rather than watch television). The OBC phenomenon never struck me as particularly interesting because why the heck would I let someone whose opinion I couldn’t really care for (and a television personality to boot, no thank you) tell me what to read? I’d have to watch the show then, right? Even in the second reincarnation of the club when an online component made participation easier I still wasn’t interested. I’d already read East of Eden and just didn’t want to look like one of the many little media-controlled sheep buying and toting around their paperbacks with the little Oprah sticker; it’s a little too “Josie and the Pussycats” for me. I actually spent an hour with a hairdryer removing the Oprah sticker from The Road because I was so disappointed that ALL the books came with the sticker when the novel released in paperback; I wanted to read McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel because it won the Pulitzer, not because a TV show I don’t watch said it was good.

Oprah has become the guru for so many people but Oprah’s opinion simply doesn’t matter to me; the opinions that matter to me are those of my friends and fellow booksellers, people I know and see every day in real life. Oprah’s not my book guru – my book guru is my friend Kat (who also happens to be the merchandise manager at my store). Kat has amazing taste and is the most well-read person I know. She’s on a mission to read all the New York Review of Books Classics titles – she suggested a group of us read their new Pinocchio – and introduced me to Special Topics in Calamity Physics. She loves literary fiction (as do I) and I can always count on her to find me a new, wonderful, and quirky book to read. She is also the one who found the Rooney book…and then persuaded me to buy it when I expressed interest in reading it.

So, who’s your book guru?

Current book-in-progress: Runaway by Alice Munro
Current knitted item: fuzzy blue top-down sweater
Current movie obsession: You’ve Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: The Five Browns

movie star drool

Lisbeth Salander is not "gamine"

Pretty sure my allergy-medicated, bordering-on-sinus-infection head almost exploded today when AAKnopf tweeted that Carey Mulligan has signed on for David Fincher’s English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  As Lisbeth Salander.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s the link to the Times Online article.

Number one, why must we have an English/American adaptation of a perfectly good Swedish film?  And you can’t claim that it doesn’t appeal when we haven’t even been given a chance to see it (distributors, I’m looking at you – you all suck).  The history of American adaptations of foreign language films lends itself to looking upon this endeavor with a gimlet eye.

Number two, Carey Mulligan is gamine.  Gamine does not equal Goth, bi-sexual, anorexic, genius computer hacker.  I understand she’s trying to break out of her given character rut, and she is talented, but this really does not make me interested in this movie especially since I’m not interested in this adaptation to start with.

Totally, I think this just ruined my Monday.


My nook just got better!

The software update (version 1.3) downloaded yesterday and it made my favorite little toy even better. There are games! Sudoku! And a basic web browser – now I can use any wifi hotspot, even those with proxy settings. Oh, and I can write short blog posts and update Goodreads. I still read books and mags on it, too – you didn’t think I would stop doing that, did you?!

stuff I read · Women Unbound Challenge

A Bookshelf of Our Own

I picked up A Bookshelf of Our Own by Deborah Felder from the Women’s History Month display at my store. 

I read it.

And I’m not terribly impressed by it – I’ve been working on this review for two weeks and that’s all I find I have to say about it.  While I did like the inclusion of books like The Shawl, The Beauty Myth, The Woman Warrior, and Women, Race, and Class the rest of the book was fairly predictable as to selection.  The biographical sketches also left a bit to be desired.  In the chapter on My Antonia Felder writes of Willa Cather:

Completely absorbed in her work, Cather remained single despite opportunities for marriage (p 91).

Huh?  I’ve read enough Cather biography to know that Cather would have never, ever married because she was most likely asexual or a lesbian, the jury’s still out on the exact orientation, so the line about having opportunities for marriage is just bizarre (the Felder bioketch also fails to mention Cather’s long-time partner, Edith Lewis).  In the chapter on Beloved, the award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 is noted but not Morrison’s Nobel Prize, awarded in 1993; considering all the biosketches cover events occuring after publication of the work under consideration it is a huge oversight.

I’m pretty “meh” about this one.

Bookclub · stuff I read

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Toby Young’s first memoir, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a little bit Love, Actually, a little Bridget Jones’s Diary, and a little bit American Psycho, with a dash of The Jerk.

It was funny and pithy (at times) – I did start to feel sorry for the guy.  He was so completely out of his depth in Manhattan’s Vanity Fair office that he wore jeans and a t-shirt to the office when told it is “casual”.  And sent a strippergram for a friend’s birthday…but it happened to be “Take Your Daughters to Work Day”, too…and just generally had some bad luck.  Methinks off-the-wall, sarcastic, un-superhot dudes generally don’t fare well as self-referential, boot-licking celebrity magazines.

Best chapter in the book:  when Toby and his office mate start speaking dude-slang about trying to get the office nitwit into bed.  Hysterical.

What did bother me was the final chapter where Toby makes a blanket statement about how meritocracy in the United States is complete bollocks because it doesn’t work.  I know his dad wrote The Rise of the Meritocracy (and coined the term) but Toby’s reference for the US is New York society/celebrity and Hollywood.  Not a good litmus test for the other 85% of the country, aka the “fly-over states” as put in the book.  Here’s a meritocracy story for you:  my father is the son of a self-employed auto mechanic and volunteer fire chief and my mother is the eldest child of a self-employeed businessman who built his business from scratch.  None of my grandparents went to college but both my parents did.  My father is a very respected system safety engineer and my mother is a parish administrator.  I have one advanced degree and am going back to school for another while my brothers are both college-educated (as are my sisters-in-law) and they are all gainfully employed.  If meritocracy doesn’t work, as Young seems to think, the lot of us would’ve been stuck in rural Illinois either in jail (because that’s what happens when you’re a no-hoper) or working at the Handimart.  We all got where we were because of hard work, opportunity, and the ability to network successfully.

movie star drool

The September Issue

One of us (not naming names) forgot to bring the motion picture adaptation of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People to bookclub so we subbed in The September Issue on instant Netflix.

The September Issue is a documentary about the assembly of the massive 2007 Vogue fall-fashion issue.  I remember that issue – it looked like a telephone book.  This is a pretty documentary about fashion insiders, most notably Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and while it is interesting to see some of the behind the scenes I don’t think this documentary goes deep enough under the skin.

They don’t go into the cost of the issue, or how they decided upon Sienna Miller as the cover shoot (I would have picked someone else), or why Wintour makes the editorial decisions she does.  Case in point, Grace Coddington put together a beautiful shoot with a twenties-in-Paris vibe, all the clothing ensembles were fabulous, the photographs were gorgeous, and a session with five models in Galliano gowns turned out an amazing shot; but Wintour cut the numbers of shots used down to (I think) five or six.  I don’t get it and Coddington didn’t quite get it, either.

Wintour looks a bit like a Stepford Wife; for some reason I was expecting someone more flamboyant (although Andre Leon Tally is flamboyant enough for the entire editorial team).

Fun to watch, but I don’t think I’ll be buying the DVD.