it is said that history tends to repeat itself. even literary history repeats itself, who would have guessed.
yesterday, as i browsed through the english book section of a shop, i found a stack of franzen's novel freedom, the copy with the cerulean warbler on it. next to this was another franzen stack, a black-and-white cover with what i finally realized to be an oprah book club stamp printed on it. at first i thought, this must be an old corrections print without the stamp having been removed. but, oh, how wrong! it was, of course, freedom. newly realeased with a neat oprah stamp printed on its cover.
a quick search of the web revealed that oprah winfrey has, despite (or because of?) all the fuzz that has been made 9 years before, picked the new franzen to be a book club selection. in her video on oprah.com she refers to franzen and herself as having 'a little history.' just to remind you, the little history involved critics and the press finally refering to the franzen-oprah incident as 'oprahgate.' as ridiculous as that name tag is, there has been quite a quarrel. when winfrey picked the corrections for her book club, franzen reluctantly accepted the invitation to the show and with it the oprah stamp on his book. just to be clear, an oprah stamp means that sales will increase dramatically and the author is likely to make a lot of money. yet it also means that this money comes from a readership that might not have picked up the novel at all if it weren't for oprah. franzen then expressed some reservations and ambiguous thoughts about his upcoming appearance at the show and the stamp on his book. (namely, that he did not like this sign of corporate ownership on what he conceived to be the outcome of his creative process and that oprah, though fighting 'the good cause' had also in the past picked some schmaltz.) the press wilingly exaggerated his statements and finally oprah disinvited franzen. as a result, especially in the first years literary criticism about the corrections concentrated a lot on the oprah/franzen feud and much less on the novel itself.
now freedom ist out. now it has become a book club choice. why? i suspect because it is a good novel but also because franzen himself sent a copy to oprah with a little note. i disapprove. not because of what oprah does in her bookclub or because of her picks or because of corporate ownership. i disapprove as a literary critic who wants to read criticism about the _novels_ and not some biased history about what the struggle bewtween franzen and oprah means for the corrections/freedom.
dear mr. franzen, i disapprove. you are elitist and you have twisted notions about corporate ownership, which you know and which probably, hopefully, troubles you. most of the times you come across mightyly disagreeable and conceited. which you also know and which at times seems to trouble you. and i like you because of it not despite. i even like the pun, sending oprah the new book. virtually forcing her to react and give you some press which you can at the same time despise and appreciate (for increasing sales and publicity). but as a person in literary studies, i disapprove. for heavens sake, what were you thinking?