Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dear Oprah

Dear Oprah, I am not a reader of your magazine so it would be rude of me to nitpick over the perfume ads which stunk up the pages so badly I had to take allergy medicine just so I could read the summer reading feature articles. Once my eyes stopped watering and I could see again, I had a wonderful time. The letter from Harper Lee was really nice. I suppose if anyone would be able to get a reclusive author to write something for her it would be you. I know you've been criticized for your book club and the books you choose, but anyone who can get thousands of people who would never have attempted it before to read Anna Karenina, Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, well, you have my admiration. I also enjoyed the article "How to Read a Hard Book." I am only truly intimidated by James Joyce, but even he is now proving to be not so bad. Still, I liked reading about why the books mentioned are important and worth a try and I liked the suggestions offered for how to read them with pleasure, especially Proust. One of the hard books is A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. I have never thought about reading this book before but now I have added it to my TBR list because it sounds so interesting. The flash fiction was really good too. I particularly liked "Sing to It" by Amy Hempel. It was beautiful and poetic and I immediately read again. And thank you for the article on Grace Paley. I saw her read once. She is an amazing woman and a writer I want to spend some time with. I know you and Toni Morrison are friends. While I liked the idea of "The Reader as Artist," and I want to think more about that idea, I didn't care for the essay. Maybe I will read it again as I think about what it means to be a reading artist, and maybe I will like it better on the second go-round. But first impression--blah. Which leads me to a few irksome things about the summer reading suggestions. A very solid majority of the recommendations are of books from the major publishers. I have nothing against the major houses, but I would have liked to see some books from smaller, independent presses. You have so much suggestive power it would be really great if you could shine some light on books that might not get much attention but that are equally as good, maybe better, than some of the books from Knopf or Viking, et al. Oh, and one more thing. Did someone actually read all the books suggested and then write about them? The reason I ask is that the write ups sound a lot like they were taken from press releases and publicist letters. It makes it feel as though I am being sold to instead of having something recommended. That wasn't the only thing that bothered me though. The article about bookshelves was fun, but did you have to include Caitlin Flanagan? Have you read any of the stuff she's written? Maybe you have and you included her to pander to conservative readers. But really Oprah, you could have done better than that. But what really got my goat was the cozy little book corner. It's beautiful to be sure, a nook any reader would love, but did you take a gander at how much the decor costs? I mean pillows for $184 each? A $325 cashmere throw? And teak bookshelves for $2,200! Do you know how many books that would buy? You don't have to pay attention to the price tag, but the rest of us do. Would it not have been possible to create a cozy reading nook on an Ikea budget and have it look just as nice? In spite of my complaints I did enjoy the summer reading issue and hope you do one next year too. But if you do one, please keep in mind you scent sensitive, budget conscious readers. We'd really appreciate it. Sincerely, Stefanie