By September 17, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Franzen-Oprah Soap Opera

freedomOK, by now you’ve probably heard that Oprah is burying the hatchet and selecting Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom as what will most likely be the last official book group selection for her current show. The Huffington Post broke the story yesterday, and all of the signs seem to be that their report  is correct. It’s a story that just can’t go without comment here on Book Group Buzz.

For those who need a review, this is the same Jonathan Franzen who famously dissed Oprah back in 2001 when The Corrections was the Oprah selection. I won’t go into all the details of that spat, but a nice recap of the he said/she said is available here. He waffled about his selection, complaining about the Oprah logo on his bookoprah-book-club and publicly airing fears that selection by Oprah would send male readers screaming away from his book. Oprah responded by rescinding the selection and soon afterwards the book club became a less regular feature of her program.

For an advocate of book groups, it’s hard to view the announcement as anything but great news. It’s no secret that Oprah’s support helped bring the popularity of book groups to new heights and this latest round of publicity can only help the cause. Franzen is a strong writer and Freedom has been getting raves, both here at Booklist and in many other quarters. It was already at the top of the NYT bestseller list before the Oprah announcement. The hold lists at my library and others are growing at an astronomical rate. It’s the story of a Minnesota family mixed with hot-button issues like environmental activism and the rebuilding of Iraq. Stir in large quantities of ironic humor and sexual desire, then finish with a bit of redemption at the end, and you have the makings of a powerful book group choice.

Franzen, of course, has a track record of saying dumb (or at least awkwardly blunt) things in public and may find some way to damper the enthusiasm for this feel good story of public forgiveness. Neither the man nor his books are for everyone: he doesn’t really do likable characters. And of course, since the Oprah show is coming to an end (at least in its current format), there’s no long-term follow-up to the story. Her book club boosterism may be coming to an end.

Still, the upside is clear. If this public kiss-and-make-up session comes off well, it will be even bigger. If you work at a library, get those copies of Freedom in stock. If you run a book club, consider joining the bandwagon. At the very least it’s going to be an interesting show.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Franzen-Oprah Soap Opera"

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  1. misha says:

    This article in the Slog that refers to the Franzen flap and a blog post a friend of mine wrote is pretty entertaining…

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