Oprah, Like Elvis, Is Everywhere
August 08, 2003
Yesterday, in my usual blog reading rounds, I ran across Erin O'Connor's comments her blog Critical Mass on Oprah Winfrey's book club. After abandoning it for a time, Oprah has revived her reading recommendations and has opted to start with Steinbeck's East of Eden. There has been some huffing in academe over the semi-lowbrow nature of the choice, but Ms. O'Connor sees positive signs:
But it's hard to get too snooty about Oprah's enthusiastic literary populism when your own profession has discarded the notion of the classic for being elitist. Possibly without knowing it, Oprah has hoist the troubled and misguided profession of letters on its own ideological petard. 'It's very hard to say Oprah is wrong,' said Louisville English professor and literary theorist Matthew Biberman. 'She seems to be reinventing the notion of a classic.' Some even think Oprah might be the future of English: 'The literary elite persist in dismissing Oprah and her readers ... (as) lowbrow, unworthy of serious attention,' said Mark Hall, who teaches rhetoric and composition at Cal State Chico. 'As a teacher, however, I struggle to engage my students in reading, and so I wonder if academics might learn something from Winfrey about how to tap into the interests of general readers. ... In my experience, the treatment of literature in the classroom often kills the joy of reading for many students. By contrast, Winfrey fosters the deeply felt pleasure that hooks readers and keeps them engaged.'When I was leaving the office yesterday, the elevator stopped and a woman stepped in. She was carrying, as you will have already guessed, a copy of East of Eden. I'm more of a Faulkner kind of guy than a fan of Steinbeck, but I will allow as how Oprah could have done a lot worse. Read on, citizens, read on.