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Franzen: Dudes Don’t Dig Oprah’s Book Club

If you’re looking for ten-year-old news, then you’ve come to the right place. When The Corrections was published in 2001, Queen Oprah selected the novel to be the newest member of her book club. Great news for Jonathan Franzen, right?

Maybe not.

Franzen had this to say in an interview:

So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever. I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I’ve heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say “If I hadn’t heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it.” Those are male readers speaking.

Does this image make dudes run?

Oprah responded by rescinding Franzen’s invitation to be on her show, though The Corrections remained as a book club selection. The two let bygones be bygones in December of last year, when Franzen appeared on Oprah’s little show for his latest novel, Freedom.

As a male reader, I totally see where Franzen was coming from. I’ve got be honest: I would be leery of Oprah selections, though I’ve never watched the show and have no idea which books she usually selects.

My personal, and probably biased opinion, would be that if a novel has the Oprah sticker on it, then it’s probably more for her demographic—which isn’t a 34-year-old male.

I do know she selected Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which might contradict my previous thought that these are female-oriented books. But, in all honesty, I’m totally clueless.

Your take?

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s a label like any other and you have to be careful with labels.


    March 3, 2011
  2. Patti #

    Understood – I balk at Oprah selections as well, not because I think they’ll be too girly, but because they’re a “popular” choice – something that has always put me off. I put off reading the Harry Potter series for that same reason; once I started the series, I found I loved it. Sometimes things are “popular” because they’re good. But I still hesitate.


    March 3, 2011
    • Yep. Sometimes it’s popular because it’s actually good…sometimes it’s popular because it has marketers who know what they’re doing.

      I used to avoid books, like Potter, simply because it was “mainstream”, but then I figured that made me equally as intelligent as the people who read the books simply because they are mainstream. I still find myself falling back to that from time to time.


      March 3, 2011
  3. I refrain from Oprah’s book choices not because they tend to be girly but that they are gothic in nature. Gruesome, violent, with men often being the worst examples of humanity. Now when I see a book with Oprah’s sticker on it I avoid it because I do not want to read about martial abuse, the death of a child or the worst of what can happen to a person without any hope of life getting better.


    March 3, 2011
    • Interesting. I would’ve never guessed a lot of her book picks would be like that.

      My guess is that you would not be a fan of Blood Meridian–it had all those qualities.


      March 3, 2011
      • I haven’t read Blood Meridian but I am willing to give it a try. I think with Oprah, we want to believe that all of her life struggles and success means she has good taste. Most of the time it appears that she does. But I think she also is still working through chaos issues and that is reflected in her reading matter.


        March 4, 2011
  4. I agree with notesfromrumbleycottage: I have the same reaction to Oprah’s Picks after friends lent me a couple to read. I decided to never choose something she picked. However, my view was changed when she picked a book I had read a couple years before and loved (to this day it’s one of my all-time favourite books). It does follow similar themes to what she chooses, but the writing was superior–those characters are with me to this day.

    I doubt I’ll give Blood Meridian a try, but maybe I’ll add Franzen to the list….


    March 4, 2011
  5. Oprah knows her books. I wouldn’t read every book she recommended but I wouldn’t dismiss it coz I thought it might appeal to a particular demographic. I read any and every book that appeals to me for a variety of reasons. Her all time favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird, which is an excellent choice and my favorite too, so I think she gets some right.


    March 5, 2011
  6. I’ve heard of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for years before I ever heard of Oprah, and I believe that I had read it in school. I plan to read it again, but I’m not an Oprah fan as she is Hollywood Glamorized and do not care for many aspects of our country that follow those lines, so I’m less likely to follow any suggestion from Oprah but if someone else suggests something that just happens to be on her list, I may read it.


    March 15, 2011
  7. I agree about the whole Oprah thing, and I am female. I don’t touch her list of books unless if I see the book elsewhere, had to read it for school, or though it looked good myself. Sure, there are those rare coincidences where my taste lines up with hers, like in the instance of The Road. But, honestly, I bet she was told to put that on the list to attempt to break the stereotype that her list was for women. She probably isn’t the one reading the books anyway. Interesting post, and sadly true in my opinion.


    May 31, 2012
  8. I think it’s a mistake to avoid books just because Oprah recommends them. She has recommended a lot of great books – like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Just because she likes a book, doesn’t make it a bad book. It doesn’t mean it’s a great book either – she has hits and misses just like every other book club out there. I don’t read a book just because Oprah recommend it – but I definitely don’t shy away from it either.


    June 4, 2012
  9. Adel #

    Dear Blogger,

    You mentioned that you felt that maybe there was a contradiction between Oprah selecting The Corrections, and her choice for picking The Road.

    Oprah usually likes stories of intense bonding and love. I think that’s why she loved it. The Road although apocalyptic is rare at the bottom a love story between the father and his son.
    the setting might be different but the emotions that they share is the same. That is, in my opinion, is what drew her attention. she likes complex tales pertaining to the human condition, like: Beloved, The Color Purple. She also understands literature. which makes her not a female reader but a literate reader who sees good stories, characters, plots.

    she does have some books which can be said to be only for female. but they are far and in between. I really advise you to have a look at her book selection their are some good books there. no need to do it now, you have a mission!

    Keep up the good work brother. Very nice blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 19, 2014

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