"It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share," Winfrey asserted in a statement. "I will continue featuring books on The Oprah Winfrey Show when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation."
No wonder a Simon & Schuster spokesman called it "a lightning bolt out of the blue." Can you imagine? We, the American publishing business, are not producing enough good books to sustain Oprah, even though she only has to choose one a month!
Now I can feel this diva's pain. I myself have thought at times of pulling the plug on Carlin's Book Club, pink-slipping the little elves who cull the potential finest from the hundreds of volumes received every week, laying off even the winsome trolls who help me turn the pages for my weekly review.
After all, do any of you out there know what it's like - that unending pressure to find literature in a haystack? The emotional turmoil that comes from reading without a net? Wouldn't anyone - especially anyone with a net worth estimated in the hundreds of millions - rather turn to nice easy work, like talking between commercials or serving in the Israel Defense Forces?
I've left it to others to turn out the lights. But Oprah's decision should be greeted with empathy, a bit of skepticism, and not moans.
First, you need to remember that she declined, a month ago, to join the Bush administration's planned celebrity goodwill trip to Afghanistan, which the White House then canceled. Just yesterday, according to South Africa's Sunday Times, she decided to postpone a trip to South Africa to launch that country's edition of O, her magazine. She told the paper, "My instinct says things aren't right in parts of the world." (So do the front pages.)
Let's face it. Oprah's rationale doesn't quite wash. Her final monthly choice, Toni Morrison's Sula, came out in 1974 (and is the fourth book by Morrison she's chosen). If Oprah lets herself stretch back 28 years for a selection, we're forced to believe she can't find one worthy novel a month out of decades of published fiction in English.
The likelier explanation is acute literary trauma. Even before Franzen dissed her last fall - responding to her selection of his big novel, The Corrections, as if he'd been tapped by the Springer Book Club - Cynthia Crossen of the Wall Street Journal had published a devastating critique of her choices. Last summer, Crossen charged that Oprah's fictional range ran from A (abused) to B (battered), and commented: "If you believed Oprah's books realistically depicted contemporary life, you would have to kill yourself, especially if you're female."
The piece angered Winfrey. Does she need this tsuris? And, over the weekend, the New York Post quoted a supposedly inside source who pointed to fiction fatigue: "It was a very arduous and careful screening process, and was taking a serious toll on Oprah and her staff. It was the single hardest thing the TV show had to do."
That's right - finding, reading and recommending one good novel or collection of stories a month. Can you imagine if she'd had to wade through histories and biographies?
Not to worry. NBC's Today show has already announced it will take up the slack, starting a monthly book club in June.
You go chill, Oprah. You've done your part.
Contact Carlin Romano at 215-854-5615 or email@example.com.