Saturday, April 23, 2005

All Those Books ... In Los Angeles?

This is a weekend I wish I lived in Los Angeles …

I can’t say that often, but today it’s true. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is this weekend, and its bigger, better, more glamorous, more literary than anything I’ve ever seen in the Bay Area. There are dozens of panels, authors, and BOOKS galore. I like the Books By the Bay in July a lot, but for sheer size and scope the Festival of Books sets the standard for the West Coast.

Mark Sarvas of the literary blog The Elegant Variation attended the Los Angeles Times Book Awards on Friday night and he covered it with a live blogcast. Sarvas does a thumbnail review each week of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and he is generally unimpressed. He reports amusingly on meeting Steve Wasserman, the editor of the book review. Wasserman, like Tom Wolfe, apparently is known for a certain white suit.

“As we headed out to call it an early night (we have a 7a.m. bike ride ahead of us), we were stopped short by the apparition of The Man in the White Suit. We couldn't resist, and we marched right up and introduced ourselves to Steve Wasserman. He was extraordinarily genial, said he admired our "passion" and that he hoped we'd find more to be enthusiastic about in the Book Review ... We told him we planned to attend his panel on Sunday (to give him a fair shot at barring us at the door) but he seemed pleased at the notion ... We admit we were slightly disappointed to not even perceive a narrowing of the eyes, a slight hand movement toward his holster ... Instead, he did make sure that we knew that the White Suit had been purchased in NY, not LA, and that fifteen years later, it still fits. Duly noted.

On the way out, SF Chronicle critic David Kipen accused us of being swayed, of going soft and falling under the spell of Wasserman's charm ... We assured we were the same uncorruptable, smart-mouthed ruffian we've always been. Then we ate some more of the L.A. Times' food, and called it a night.”

In another interesting blog, Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading provides an interesting perspective on the Open Letter to Oprah, signed by dozens of mostly female authors. I was never a critic of Oprah’s Book Club, in part because I thought she chose entertaining books with a literary bent. I understood the coffee clatch aspect of the book club. That clubbiness with a quasi-corporate bent (Oprah is a billion-dollar brand) irritated many, including Jonathan Franzen, who refused to allow The Corrections to be a book club selection.

Here’s Scott take on why the world doesn’t need Oprah’s stamp of approval:

“So there are many factors for a decline in fiction sales, but I am sure Oprah was one of them. However, if it is really true that nowadays Oprah's "readers have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like," then I can't agree that Oprah really generated readers. Buyers, yes, but readers no.

If it's true that as soon as Oprah stopped making picks these readers stopped looking around for living authors to read, then I must question how good of readers these people were. I must question how many of the 650,000-1.2 million copies bought of each book actually got read. What's clear is that Oprah generated sales, but if these people were really at sea without Oprah to guide them, then I don't think Oprah generated readers.”

So is Oprah going to respond to this open letter asking her to choose literary fiction for her book club? I can't see her doing it on TV or in her magazine. But she can't remain silent, can she? Stay tuned....


Robin Wolaner said...

Actually, Jonathan Franzen did something I think despicable, not what you wrote: he tried to have it both ways,criticizing Oprah AND capitalizing on her: Here's the Amazon listing: The Corrections (Oprah Edition) [BARGAIN PRICE] (Hardcover)
by Jonathan Franzen "The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through..." (more)

the Happy Booker said...

There's an Oprah update; I am updating my site tonight. THB