The Shapiro Files

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ya Gotta Hand it to Oprah

While many people I know either love or hate her, I’ve never had a strong opinion about Oprah Winfrey one way or the other. I suppose my only criticism is that she tends to inject too much of herself during interviews. But that’s only a minor quibble — and one I have for just about all popular talk show interviewers. However, I really have to say that I’ve recently earned new respect for Winfrey as a cultivator of high art by way of her well-known (and very influential) Book Club. In recent months she has gradually begun eschewing popular contemporary fiction for classics of literature. Recent Book Club selections have included authors such as John Steinbeck and Gabriel García Márquez. And now, she’s launched an ambitious “Summer of Faulkner” reading list. Having read a fair amount of William Faulkner in college, I know just how dense and challenging (though ultimately highly satisfying) his work can be. So good for you, Oprah, for encouraging your fans to stretch out and enjoy such difficult — yet very rich — works of art.

Check out this article from The Nation for some excellent commentary on Winfrey’s Faulkner program. Choice quote: “[Winfrey] has gone beyond the intellectual limits of the acceptably middlebrow — and of her own show — in openly embracing a writer who is not only highly experimental in his prose but utterly despairing in outlook. And that is little short of astonishing.”


  • I love Faulkner, but unfortunately there aren't too many people aside from English majors, who like to discuss his works. It's now in vogue among certain circles (mostly among Lit majors in my age group) to consider Faulkner tasteless and self-gratifying.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 7/28/2005 7:41 PM  

  • I had no idea that Faulkner was falling out of vogue among Lit majors. When I was in graduate school (not all that long ago...seriously!), there was a pretty strong respect for Faulkner. My colleagues and I enjoyed sitting down and talking about the Faulkner novels we were reading for our classes and the conversations were always very enjoyable. There's nothing I like better than sitting down with a bunch of smart people talking about intellectual topics. I guess that's the snob in me!

    So I'm sorry to hear that Faulkner isn't the academic darling he once was. But then again, I guess changes in taste are a fact of life in academia. Still, I'm surprised to hear that people find Faulkner "tasteless"? I can understand criticisms relating to Faulkner's misogynistic tendencies or his less than charitable depictions of African Americans in his earlier works. But I never thought that "tasteless" would be a word used to describe his work. Dark, yes. Cynical, absolutely. But tasteless? So-called "Reality TV" is tasteless. So is Paris Hilton. But William Faulkner?

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 7/29/2005 12:00 PM  

  • Yeah, I find it pretty surprising myself, and am trying to understand why. Actually, these individuals don't like his style of writing. They find it needlessly convoluted. I don't agree!

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 7/31/2005 7:41 PM  

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