Oprah's bookclub: small press love

Back when the Oprah-Franzen book club fiasco was going on, plenty of readers and writers made vocal distinctions about the quality of book which finds a home on any of Oprah’s book lists. And, most have stayed in those camps, pro or con, for or against, ever since. Critics of the club argue it’s too light, too homogenized, too much the lapdog of huge publishing houses and not at all created for the highly literate reader. Howevah! Her summer reading list, in particular, has caused a reexamination of assumptions about her book lists, as the list carries more than just a few small press titles.
Small press titles in Oprah’s book club or summer reading list:


House of Sand and Fog
by Andre Dubus III
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 2000

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Dubus’s chronicle of the American Dream gone awry is distinguished by his sympathetic delineation of lower-middle class life.”

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Poems from the Women’s Movement
Edited by Honor Moore
Publisher: Library of America, 2009

Publisher’s note: “…the poems that gave voice to a revolution,
including works by Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser, Anne
Sexton, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, May Swenson, Alice Walker, Anne
Waldman, Sharon Olds, and many others.”


One D.O.A., One on the Way
By Mary Robison
Publisher: Counterpoint, 2009

From Publisher’s Weely: “With a laconic voice and a despairing sense of humor, film location scout Eve Broussard narrates award-winning Robison’s grim yet witty novella about the dissolution of a family and a city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”


The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards: Stories
By Robert Boswell
Publisher: Graywolf Press, 2009

From Publisher’s Weekly: “In this imaginative story collection, author Boswell (Century’s Son)
examines the limits and losses of ordinary souls with technical mastery
and profound sympathy. Boswell conveys the sordid but hopeful inner lives of average people
with insight and care; his shorter stories (Miss Famous, Skin Deep)
showcase his pleasure in language and invention, and his longer tales
pack the emotional weight of a novel.”


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
credited to Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Quirk Books, 2009

From Booklist: “This may be the most wacky by-product of the busy Jane Austen
fan-fiction industry–at least among the spin-offs and pastiches that
have made it into print. In what’s described as an “expanded edition”
of Pride and Prejudice, 85 percent of the original text has been
preserved but fused with  ‘ultraviolent zombie mayhem.’…”


The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors
by Hal Niedzviecki
City Lights Books, 2009

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Ubiquitous video technology and the Internet have ushered in a ‘peep
culture’ that makes us all either–or simultaneously–exhibitionists or
voyeurs, according to this eye-opening study…. He argues instead that peep culture reprises an ancient impulse to bond
through the sharing of intimacies, but worries that our digital version
of village gossip and primate grooming is a weak and fraudulent
foundation for community.”


A Meaningful Life
By L. J. Davis
Introduction by Jonathan Lethem
NYRB Classics, 2009 (1st ed. 1971)

Publisher’s note: “L.J. Davis’s 1971 novel, A Meaningful Life, is a blistering
black comedy about the American quest for redemption through real
estate and a gritty picture of New York City in collapse. Just out of
college, Lowell Lake, the Western-born hero of Davis’s novel, heads to
New York, where he plans to make it big as a writer. Instead he finds a
job as a technical editor, at which he toils away while passion leaks
out of his marriage…Then Lowell discovers a
beautiful crumbling mansion in a crime-ridden section of Brooklyn, and
against all advice…sinks his every
penny into buying it.”


Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud
Edited by Robert Pinsky
W.W. Norton, 2009

Publishers note: “Robert Pinsky, beloved for his ability to bring poetry to life as
spoken language, has collected poems that sound marvelous in a reader’s
actual or imagined voice. Pinsky has organized the book into sections
with brief introductions that emphasize the attentive, intuitive, and
reflective process of listening to poetry. This structure provides an
implicit, generous definition-by-example of poetry itself: beginning
with ‘Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes’ and ‘Long Lines’ and proceeding
through fundamental themes such as ‘Love Poems,’ ‘Odes, Complaints, and
Celebrations,’ and ‘Jokes, Ripostes, Parodies, and Insults.’…”

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Tags: book recommendations, oprah


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  • Sand and Fog is deliciously readable and The Road is one of my favorite books of the last few years, both of which I read in the "Oprah book club" versions, so I've got her back at least until she proves me wrong.

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