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What is the Current State of Literature?

I asked my friends on the popular Duluth blog Perfect Duluth Day (PDD) what they thought the current state of literature is. I was pleased to find 35 responses to this query, though it turned into a bit of a debate over e-readers, which I did not really intend to start…Here is my initial post and some of the good responses.

“What is the current state of literature?
By stephaniejt on May 11, 2011 in Bitching

I am asking all opinions on the state of literature today. Does it exist? Is there a difference between Literature and what most people read today (if they do happen to read).

It makes me sad that many men see reading as a “women’s” activity. Don’t we all appreciate a good story? Why is any novel that has an “Oprah” symbol on it now seen as weak fluff that is not suitable for men to read?

I hate buying books that have the movie cover on the book. Most of the time I have never even heard of a really good book until it is set to come out as a movie. Is that the only way books actually sell?

I am not sure if I will ever own an e-reader but I know I will never give up my books.”

Response:

Literature does exist today. Very much so.

Finding great literature is a lot like finding great music. You have to actively seek it out — find sources you trust and follow them. You can’t wait for the entertainment industry to dole stuff directly to you, otherwise you’ll end up reading the literary equivalent of Katy Perry.

Who knows about the stigma of the Oprah O and what that even means. If you avoided that, you’d avoid one of the best novels of the past few years, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Franzen actually denied the O the first time around because of exactly what you’re saying. Eventually he caved.

I’m biased, but check out Minnesota Reads for perspectives on what’s being published these days. It’s a site for voracious readers, so you’ll find everything from literary fiction to graphic novels to celebrity memoirs.

Barrett Chase | May 11, 2011 | New Comment

 

Response:

Good questions, Stephanie! Re Oprah — I do not see her book club choices as fluff at all. In fact, her novels oftentimes are a little too intense for readers. She loves to read books about people going through tough, tough times. Her choices are sometimes too dark for me. For instance, Toni Morrison is not an easy read, by any stretch of the imagination! And contrary to Barrett, I hated Freedom, but I may have been influenced by a personal encounter with Jonathan Franzen. But that’s a story to be told over lots of liquid refreshment, not here on PDD.

In terms of finding good books, I’d check out the DNT’s Sunday bestsellers list, which they get from the Midwest Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Booksellers Association — both are organizations of independent booksellers in the Midwest who report the books selling best in their stores. Since indie booksellers choose their inventory (rather than someone in NYC doing the selecting) and often handsell the books they most love, this list always has some amazing reads on it. If you want to know what’s a good read, ask your local independent bookseller, I say. I always ask some indie booksellers I know whom I trust, like this one bookseller in Milwaukee who is always spot on.

And I so agree with you about e-books. Not my thing at all.

Claire

Response:

Literature exists…more so than most of can probably fathom. But you have to seek it out, hunt it, search in deep dark places for it.

Pretty much, we – human beings – live in societies were we are inundated to the max with media, advertising, marketing, economic influences, social pressures, trends, blah blah blah (we started out as foragers that spent less than 4 hours a day gathering our quota of calories. Imagine that..4 hour workdays? No wonder were now overpopulated, huh?) Anyways, this mass blast of information that comes our way, totally overloads our cognition and gives us undesirable societal problems such as mental illness and postal shootings.

It also distracts us from things of the past, like great literature. And while I don’t know who oprah is, and can’t knock him, I’m sure he is a product of the mass media conglomerate and the books that his club pushes are potentially wish wash that the marketing dept at penguin thinks is a great money maker (no knock to you, Barrret, either. When I think ‘O’, I think Million Little Pieces…and I cringe – hard..real hard).

Sooo, the moral of the story is: seek out great literature in places where you wouldn’t expect to find it – garage sales, basement used book stores, friends, musty professors offices, the amazing alonzo, that huge antique shop next to the Acoustic Cafe in Winona, etc.. The older, the less pop hysteria will influence you to read it for the wrong reasons. The best book I have ever read, by far, is ranked 24,129 in sales on amazon. Either I suck, or go figure (rhetorical)?

And props to the previous comments. I’m bad at keeping up on whats current. Considering literature has been around ~4500 years, I put myself in a fickle as to where to even start. Nice thread.

Blazer | May 11, 2011 | New Comment

 

 

My Response:

You guys are fantastic. I love all the answers and suggestions and the conversation that has been started. I feel like one day the only people left who read are going to be this underground group who secretly hoards and trades books. Because all books are out of print and there are no more trees for paper…this may be coming from my liking of post-apocalyptic novels….haha.

I think it is great that Oprah has reintroduced so many people to classics and it just makes me a little mad that she gets negative feedback from it. I am actually reading Freedom by Franzen right now and had looked up the history on the whole Oprah thing. I am about 200 pages in and I just can’t imagine what is going to happen over the next 350 pages. Is there really that much to talk about? We will see I guess.

I actually LOVED the YA series The Hunger Games but I am kind of disappointed that it is going to be a movie because those who only like it because of the movie aren’t really “real fans” of the written story.

I was an English major as well and always had the good stuff presented to me. Now I have to dig around for the really great stuff on my own.

I heard some really interesting stuff about gender during childhood and in school and how boys will start doing poorly in school because doing well in school is a “girl” thing. Probably similar with reading. Sad.

stephaniejt | May 12, 2011 | New Comment

 

 

To view more of this post and other amazing Duluth, MN conversations visit: http://www.perfectduluthday.com/2011/05/11/what-is-the-current-state-of-literature/