On her show Tuesday, Oprah Winfrey announced her latest book club selection: Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel narrated by a hermaphrodite. The book also deals with incest, a popular theme from many of her earlier book club selections.
Over the past few years, Winfrey has recommended works by Faulkner, Tolstoy, Carson McCullers, Steinbeck, and Marquez, all which are a tremendous improvement over her earlier selections that have since gained the reputation of being “schmaltzy.” This was ever shown when Jonathan Franzen asked for his book The Corrections to be removed as one of Oprah’s picks, fearing that men would be put off by it. He referred to some of her past selections as being “schmaltzy” and “one-dimensional” enough to make him “cringe.” Franzen was then uninvited to her show, a move that many of her critics noted, claiming she should have kept him as a guest if she really believed his book was good enough to recommend.
There is no doubt that her picks generate sales. Many believe, however, that after receiving such criticism for her previous poor selections, that she is only now choosing books that are “critically safe” in that they either are by classic writers or by ones with Pulitzer Prizes, like Eugenides. Either way, someone will always complain. But there is no harm in getting the public interested in true literary classics, albeit many critics have said, despite its Pulitzer, that this recent selection does not fall into that category.