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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

" Oprah 1 Literature 0 " declares Hillary Kelly in her NEW REPUBLIC piece

...aptly titled, 'Bad Expectations'.

Oprah recommended curling up with a cup of hot cocoa to two Charles Dickens novels "for the holidays". And those novels were, drum roll please... Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities !

Geez Louise ! What was Oprah thinking ? Well you might ask.

As Ms. Kelly sees it... 

Oprah’s approach to her Book Club is all about herself. Her recent announcement contained not a word of reasoning or insightfulness about Dickens’s work; instead, she explained her reason for picking two of his novels by shouting, in a lame attempt at literary humor, “Cause it’s the best of times!” Just as she deems her “favorite things” worthy of an annual consumer-fest, she happily pushes to her audience of millions whatever books she herself wants to read.
Light Reading ?
Making the situation all the more appalling, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities could not be more different. Focusing on wildly different themes and set in two distinct historical periods, scholars do not even regard the books as being of the same caliber—Great Expectations is often considered the far superior work.Reading them in conjunction imparts no nutritional value. This whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Even more confusingly, Oprah’s comments about Dickens making for cozy reading in front of a winter fire misinterprets the large-scale social realism of his work. It stands to reason that her sentimentalized view of Dickens might stem from A Christmas Carol—probably his most family-friendly read and one of his most frequently recounted tales. But her quaint view of Victoriana, as she’s expressed it, belies an ignorance of Dickens’s authorial intentions. Indeed, both A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are dark and disturbing, with elaborate ventures into the seedy underbelly of London and the bloody streets of Paris. How can we trust a literary guide who, ignorant of the terrain ahead, promises us it will be light and easy [emphasis mine] ? 
Great Expectations ? Really ?
Since its inception in 1996, the Book Club has carved its niche among readers by telling them that the novel is a chance to learn more about themselves. It’s not about literature or writing; it’s about looking into a mirror and deciding what type of person you are, and how you can be better. While a generally wrongheaded view of novels, this notion is all the more frustrating when the club delves into the true classics, with their vast knottiness, glorious language, breathtaking characters, and multi-faceted, mind-twisting prose. None of that matters in Oprah’s view of books, since reading is yet another exercise in self-gratification. “If you have read him, what do you think Dickens might have to share and teach those of us who live in this digital age?” the Book Club’s producer, Jill, asks on Oprah’s website. This is the Eat, Pray, Love school of reading. 
Wonder what Oprah would recommend for Travel Books ? Mutiny on the Bounty and Heart of Darkness ?