Monday, April 18, 2011

Keep Your "O" Off My Book!

I like Oprah. I admire her, I watch her show, I subscribe to her magazine, and I think she's a fairly cool lady. When she started talking about books and got everyone to read, I thought it was great, and wished more power to her and the ubiquitous "Oprah effect." Sometimes I would read the monthly selection, most of the time I wouldn't. She chose some good ones (I am still grateful for the introduction to Wally  Lamb) and she chose some really awful ones (I thought James Frey's A Million Little Pieces sucked before everyone found out it was full of lies and got all mad about it) but it didn't matter; my reading habits had nothing to do with her. Well, that was true until she started putting her darn sticker on everything.

I don't remember when the "O" sticker first appeared; it's possible that it was plastered all over the cover of her first selection (which happened to be Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, if you were curious) and I somehow just didn't notice it. Once I did notice that sticker, I saw it everywhere, and it unnerved me. That little sticker changed the way I read. It made me self-conscious. I didn't want anyone to see me reading a novel with Oprah's seal of approval and think that I was incapable of chosing books for myself. That sticker undermined my expertise, and as much as I like Oprah, I refuse to believe that she's better at choosing books than I am. The easy fix would have been to simply peel the sticker off, but those things were made with some kind of freakishly strong Oprah-grade glue that wouldn't come off without taking a good chunk of the cover with it. So, I could look like one of Oprah's reading minions or like I don't take care of my books.

Oprah huh?

That sticker made me wary of certain books. I rebelled against Oprah and her super-sticky stickers. They were designed to make me want to read something, but instead, they repelled me, and I would often refuse a book simply because Oprah told me I should check it out.  My rebellion extended beyond the obviously branded books to books that looked like something Oprah might like; there was nothing worse than having a stranger ask me if I was reading an "Oprah book." If I happened to read a book before Oprah got her mitts on it, I had to make sure that everyone knew about it. That's right, I had The Road on hold at the library at least two weeks before Oprah said a word about it. I still feel a bit smug about this, ridiculous as it is.

At one point, I decided that contemporary fiction was getting to be too stressful for me, so I went back to the good old classics. Of course, soon after I made this decision, Oprah stretched out a bit and started encouraging people to read Faulkner and Tolstoy and Dickens. That would have been great, except that now the sticker was gone, replaced by a permanent graphic printed right on the cover. Oprah has officially proliferated the reading world, and now she cannot be peeled away. Even your non-fiction isn't safe; if the author appeared on the Oprah show, watched the Oprah show, or has heard of Oprah, there will likely be an endorsement somewhere on the book. 

Now that the heyday of Oprah's book club has largely passed (it helped oodles when she stopped making regular selections and instead chose books when she darn well felt like it), and the show is in its final season, I have hope that the "O" emblem will gradually fade from existence, at least on my books. I don't begrudge Miss O and her embrace of literature, I just wish she hadn't gotten so stamp-happy with her love. Couldn't the graphic have been smaller? Or maybe it could've been tucked inside the book somewhere, like in the middle of a random chapter or hidden within the cover art itself. I wouldn't be opposed to a fun game of "Where's Oprah" with my copy of She's Come Undone. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to continue avoiding the mark as much as I can, and when that's impossible, well, there's always electrical tape.


  1. Too funny and so true! I have felt the same way about the "O" and also steered cleared of any books that she (or anyone for that matter) has recommended. I am my own person, and I read what I WANT, not because of who read it.

  2. Right?! I am a complete closet 'o' bk lister. i check the list when my mind goes blank and i need a read, but hope no one is looking over my shoulder. At the same time i have found myself refusing books that 'look' like an 'o' book. but here’s the deal.... it saves me time (which pains me to say because i could live my life in a book store or library) looking for something in the two point five seconds i have to look for something for me while the boys fight over who gets to spend more at the bookstore. i have even found myself looking up the earlier printings of the book so it won't have that stupid book club printed all over.

  3. We are glad to have such kindred spirits!

  4. Mel here-
    @Stacey: I know exactly what you mean about using the list as a time-saver. I hate to admit it, but Oprah does have decent taste in books, and I do turn to her book club list when I'm especially desperate. In fact, the main reason I subscribe to her magazine is the fantastic book section in each issue, though those books are blessedly "O" free.

    I've been thinking about designing my own sticker for books that I lend or recommend to friends... Maybe a huge, fancy "M" with stars and rainbows and exclamation points and "Be grateful for Melanie, without whom you'd be stuck reading crappy books!" Good idea? :)

  5. BRAVO! I thought I was the only person in the world avoiding "oprah books" like the plague. I'm not a fan of hers and was totally rubbed the wrong way when everyone thought I was following her selections too so I started to dodge the books with her lovely logo stamped right on them. I hope the O fades here fast, I'm tired of it and want to select my own books without fear there might be an O on it when I go to the store.

    B @