Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The missing ingrediant in Oprah's Book Club Mix

Yesterday,after rocking out to Neil Diamond(quite the image to have imprinted on
your eyes),Oprah announced her new Book club title:Night by Elie Wiesel. She chose
the new translation out by FSG as her "official" copy(there is a mass market one
still available)and also mentioned two other things:she's planning a trip with Mr.
Wiesel to Auschwitz(fun times ahead)and a high school essay contest with Night as
the theme. 50 kids(with their parents)will be selected to go to Chicago for a very
special Oprah show with Elie Wiesel.

Now,I have nothing against Night or Elie Wiesel;I've never read the book but have
heard many good things about it. It doesn't appeal to me,personally,for two good
reasons-a)I've read plenty of fiction/nonfiction on the subject already and b)it
seems really depressing. Reason B leads me to conclude what truly bugs me about
Oprah's Book club:there's no fun in it at all.

I've known many people in reading groups and I've taken part in an online version
(at the Republic of Pemberley)and while folks like to pick smart books to talk about
,they also try to enjoy what they're reading. Many times,a group will recover from
a not so successful book discussion by picking something completely different than
what they're used to. They shake things up or go back to a past favorite for the
pleasure of it.

Even in my ROP group,we liven up our Group Reads with great side activities-our
last Jane Austen book was Persuasion and the Group leader held a weekly haiku
contest; she gave us a topic based on what chapters we were reading that week
and all the haikus were posted and voted on via e-mail.Yes, I submitted a few
and No,I didn't win but had a good time doing it. Little Sister even helped me
with the syllable count(coming up with an exact 17 is tricker than you think)
and she's not into Austen at all.

When we read Emma last(for me,it was the first time to discuss Emma with others),
one of our group would post recipes mentioned in the book(Emma has quite a few
food references)and research how meals were prepared,sugar storage,etc. Even for
non-Jane titles(yes,we do pick books other than Jane's to keep things lively),we
have great discussions and if there's a film version,we compare and contrast both
towards the end of the GR. Next week,we're reading Horace Walpole's Gothic novel
The Castle of Oranto to put us in the mood for Northanger Abbey. I'm not the only
one looking forward to that,I'm sure.

It may seem like very schoolroom stuff but it's alot more entertaining than what
Oprah proposes-a key phrase that stuck out in my mind from her praise of Night was
'This book is mandatory reading for humanity"
The word"mandatory" I equate with gym class-you have to take it and you can't get
out of it,like it or not. Encouraging people to read a book that you feel is import
-ant is one thing,demanding that they read it in order to be better people is not
what the joy of reading is about.

Oprah's contest is all very well and good but I'm not impressed. For one,Night is
already required reading in many schools(there's even Cliff's Notes for it) and
her prize should like something maybe Rory Gilmore would enjoy. Basically,Oprah's
giving high school kids more homework-I went to her website and check out the entry
form; the essay has to be a thousand words on numbered,typewritten pages. Nothing
wrong with that but at the bottom of the form,both student and parent have to sign
a waiver saying that Harpo Entertainment owns 100% of anything submitted to use in
anyway they want. In other words,Oprah and Company can take these essays(winners and
non-winners alike)and perhaps,publish them in book form without having to give these
kids a dime.

Sure,they get a free trip to Chicago and meet a famous author but that just seems
like a fancy class trip to me. If Oprah can give away a bunch of cars,why not set
up a scholarship fund for some of these kids? What about the kids who put in the
work and don't win? If Harpo owes the copyright,can they use the essay for college
transcripts or credit? Can they use their essay to apply for scholarships if Oprah
owes the copyright? Something to think about here.

Anyway,my point is that Oprah seems to have forgotten a basic need when selecting
her book du jour-reading is fundamental,true but "fun" is what changes reading from
a chore into a delight.

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