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Updated: 04/06/02

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White Oleander
by Janet Fitch

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Saturday, 6 April, 2002

Oprah needs to expand her horizons. From The Wall Street Journal, Oprah Winfrey is ending "Oprah's Book Club," a monthly feature on her talk show wherein she hypes selected books that she likes.

"It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share," Ms. Winfrey said in a statement. "I will continue featuring books on the 'Oprah Winfrey Show' when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation."

A spokeswoman for Ms. Winfrey's company, Harpo Inc., Chicago , said Toni Morrison's novel, "Sula," will be featured as the club's last selection. "Sula" was originally published in hardcover in 1974 by Alfred A. Knopf, a unit of Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc. "Sula" will be the fourth title of Ms. Morrison's to be featured on the program.

Being selected by Oprah was like winning the lottery for an author. An automatic free pass to the Bestseller List for the forty-six books she promoted over the past six years. I have read several of Oprah's book selections - in fact, White Oleander is one - but I have found that most of them have one thing in common: they are all so darned FRAUGHT WITH MEANING. She is known for picking books about people overcoming adversity, or racial issues, and has shown a strong bias toward female authors - not that there's anything wrong with that. But even reading some of the reviews of these books is draining:

"This is the achingly real tale of what happens when the American Dream goes awry..."

"A mixture of classical tragedy perfectly imbued with film noir..."

I really need to be in the mood to read depressing fiction, which I am from time to time. But there is a whole world of books out there, not all of which need to send a strong message about an issue. In fact, it is estimated that 60,000 new books are published each year. And this is where is I have an issue with Oprah's decision, or more accurately, her stated reason for ending the Book Club: it is becoming too hard to find books she can recommend.

Huh? Sixty thousand new books from which to select each year - not to mention all those already in print - and she can't come up with more than forty-six she can recommend? I mean, I can probably list at least thirty I would recommend to people, and I don't have a staff of people to prescreen my books for me. [Oh, well, I have Mom, who kindly puts her little Post-It Note reviews on the books she sends, but I don't consider her staff.]

So I wondered about it, until I heard a clip on CBS News, where they noted that Oprah's show commented that "our ratings go down when we have a Book Club show." Ah. That makes more sense. And if that is the case, or if it is because she just doesn't want to be a starmaker any more, or if the planets are in the wrong alignment - WHATEVER - that's fine. But I think Oprah is sending a rather disturbing message by suggesting that the universe of quality reading material is limited to forty-six books.

Speaking of starmakers, I received a new CD in the mail yesterday - Russell Holsapple's Symphony #1 performed by the Minneapolis Youth Symphony.


Exactly. Mr. Holsapple is a young composer who had his big break come in the form of my oft-admired favorite columnist, James Lileks. Lileks went to a performance of the Symphony a couple of months ago, bought the CD, and wrote about how wonderful it was. He linked to the Minneapolis Youth Symphony and suggested we get a copy. The response was overwhelming, and Mr. Holsapple is on the map. The symphony is truly a lovely piece, and I listened to it all evening.

Note to self: don't have any Italian children. Italy's highest appeals court has ruled that parents must continue to support their adult children until they find a job to their liking. The specific case concerns a wealthy family in Naples where the father is paying nearly $700 a month for the upkeep of his thirty-something trust-fund son with a law degree. The son has turned down several job offers because he hadn't found one he liked. The court said, "You cannot blame a young person, particularly from a well-off family, who refuses a job that does not fit his aspirations. The parents have to pay for their upkeep."

[I would have expected it from the French, but the Italians?]

~ ~ ~

Quote du jour:

"You don't have to burn books
to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them."

Ray Bradbury (1920 - ____) US science-fiction writer

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