Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oprah Book Club Stickers and Me

I spotted a clever column at the Guardian Unlimited website this morning that is titled "Books as Drinking Companions." Who could resist clicking on that title? As it turns out, columnist Jonathan Morrison is offering book title suggestions to various types of drinkers. He has ideas for happy drinkers, miserable drinkers, light drinkers and violent drinkers (he suggests hardcovers for those with violent tendencies).

But what really caught my eye was his advice that "drinking with books is fine, providing you're over 18 and don't buy anything with a Richard and Judy Book Club sticker on it...."

Richard and Judy host a morning television talk show in the U.K. that is very similar to the type of show that seems to be popular all over the world these days, shows filled with bits of hard news surrounded by entertainment news, relatively light interviews with celebrities and politicians selling books, movies or simply themselves, and maybe a few cooking lessons thrown in as icing on the cake. I'm not sure when it happened but Richard and Judy have apparently started a book club on the show in which they choose and highlight a book of which they are particularly fond. Oprah Winfrey with a British accent, I suppose.

The crack about the "Richard and Judy sticker" got me to thinking about the countless books that I've seen with "Oprah Book Club" stickers or imprints plastered all over their covers. I always look at those books with an extra bit of skepticism for some reason and, even if I want the book, I have never been able to force myself to buy a copy with the word "Oprah" anywhere on it. I can remember several different times that I've gone out of my way to find an edition of a book that predated Oprah's blessing so that I didn't give the impression to the world that my choice of books was influenced by Oprah Winfrey of all people. I'm always happy to see anyone discuss their love of books and reading, but I don't want to join Oprah's club, thanks anyway.

Call me grumpy today. Oprah always seems to affect me that way.


  1. I am absolutely with you on this. I have had a couple of books that I've taken off my TBR list once they became Oprah picks. I've since added at least one back, but if I buy it I will be buying it without the Oprah sticker or taking it off before I take it to the cash register.

    I am what you might call anti-Oprah. I feel like she's trying to save us from ourselves, telling us what is good because we can't decide for ourselves. I can make my own decisions, thank you very much!

  2. Sam- Loved your post. I read "The Road" before it came her choice and usually ignore her book club choices until they catch my attention on their own.

    She seems like a nice lady and I admire her philanthropy but I can choose my own books and run my own life.

  3. I do the same thing with Oprah and other club emblems on books. If it's a sticker I take it off; if it's a permanent thing (which really annoys me), I look for a different version.

    I do the same thing when they rerelease books with the movie cover. I can't stand that and won't buy that version of the book.

  4. I always avoid the Oprah stickers, too! Or take them off, if not permanent. And I avoid the movie covers. I don't like the hype, it annoys me.

    In fact, I remember the first time I noticed the movie cover phenomenon--when I saw an edition of W.H. Auden poems with a "Four Weddings and a Funeral" cover on it (because a character read an Auden poem at the funeral in the movie). I couldn't believe it at the time, but now realize it's anything to sell a book...

    I usually vote with my wallet on this issue, avoiding any edition that smacks of a gimmick.

  5. I'm kind of relieved to see that at least some of you guys agree with me about the Oprah stickers. I honestly find it more than a little bit embarrassing to carry one of those stickered books around with me. I had a couple show up on my hold list from the library and I didn't take them out of the house. :-)

    Y'all hit on another thing that really irritates me...those movie covers. It does make me laugh sometimes to see a Charles Dickens or Jane Austen novel covered with one of those shots from a recent movie or BBC or PBS film. I suppose that it MIGHT sell a few more copies, but it has to turn off an equal number of potential buyers, I would think. And, in the case of a classic book like those, those movie covers become "dated" pretty quickly...kind of a strange thing to happen to an 18th or 19th century book.

  6. I hate books with Oprah stickers. For one, I don't won't folks to think I'm only reading because Oprah said so!

    My meme is up now!

  7. If it makes y'all feel any better, these gimmicks (award winner ribbons, club stickers, movie poster covers, etc.) are key elements in introducing a non-reader or perhaps a lazy reader to an obviously, foreign object--the book.

    Our annoyance can be attributed to a higher and aquired taste in books. ;D

  8. ''these gimmicks..... are key elements in introducing a non-reader or perhaps a lazy reader to an obviously, foreign object--the book.''

    Nail on head!

  9. I'm off to take a look at your meme, Amanda. Thanks for playing the game.

    I think that my problem with the Oprah stickers is largely down to my basic distrust of the lady and her image. I'm just a born cynic, I suppose.

  10. Anything to stand out in the crowded market place, Maggie...and I suppose that it works for lots of readers, new and old ones alike.

    It's hard on folks like us who just have more taste in books, isn't it? :-)

  11. I have nothing against Oprah, but count me among the many who don't like the stickers and emblems on my books!

  12. I'm getting the definite impression that those stickers and imprints are largely counterproductive, Stefanie.

  13. Asides from the aesthetics of the sticker, I'm going to break the trend here and say I don't mind Oprah's endorsement. People have had these books on their TBR lists, some are classics, so why does Oprah's endorsement cheapen it? And isn't it a little hypocritical that many of us here review books online, yet balk at the idea of Oprah telling someone else what to read? The way I feel about Oprah is the way I feel about all critics; if you find one that seems to have similar tastes, their "thumbs up" is a more likely safe bet. I think what lies at the heart of all this is snobbery (feel free to kick my soapbox out from under me). The stereotype (unfair and offensive as it might be) of an Oprah watcher is a brainless housewife. We can't stand it then that they might pick up a copy of Faulkner or Tolstoy, they might catch up to us intellectual types! But no fear, we can point fingers and say, "they're only reading it because Oprah said so!" and everyone falls into rank again.

  14. John, I concede that there well might be some snobbery involved but I don't think that it's directed at Oprah's fans so much as it is directed at Oprah herself. I'm a born skeptic and I hate to see so much power in the hands of one person. Who is to say, one way or the other, that Oprah is not influenced by personal friendships or other "scratch my back" tactics when choosing her next book for promotion?

    She has the power to create an instant best seller from trash or worse. I think that the last straw for me was when she recently chose Sydney Potier's memoirs, The Measure of a Man as worthy of bestsellerdom to the masses. Potier, being one of the most crazed anti-Americans I know of today, is a man that I find despicable to his core but I know that Oprah's politics are a very watered down version of Potier's . I question her motives for choosing this particular book and I am gratified to see that it did not sell in the huge numbers that some of her past choices have reached.

    I'm all for the masses learning about good books, in particular books like the classics that you mentioned. I only feel like a snob when I'm on the beach and notice what people are actually reading...and I eventually chastise myself for looking down my nose at their choices...not when I see good books actually reaching the audience that they deserve.

    It's just that in today's world, where politics are so volatile and where books are so important in spreading ideas, I hate to see one person have such an effect on the reading public...there are just too many ways that can be abused by the one with the power.

    I admit that my politics and those of Oprah's seldom mesh and that's probably part of why I feel so strongly about her influence.

    Hope this rambling made some sense...

  15. I probably come across as a major Oprah fan, eh? My point is simply that I don't think Oprah is any more or less out of line with her book club or reviews than anyone else. True, with her popularity, there are no doubt more people lobbying her to choose their book than say you or I. But if the low sales of Portier's book are any indication, the readers deserve more credit than they're getting in their ability to choose. I'd also like to add that the same back-scratching and playing to politics goes on for awards as well.

  16. Your points are all valid ones, John. With Potier's book, though, I think it's more a reflection that her target audience probably reads a lot more fiction than non-fiction so she didn't generate the sales numbers that other of her picks have generated. In other words, it is explained more by the genre than anything else, I would bet.

    I guess it all boils down, for me, to the fact that I see it as a dangerous thing for so much influence to be concentrated in the hands of one person whose good judgment I think is questionable.