Goodbye, Oprah

by Patrick on November 20, 2009

Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey confirmed reports that she will be canceling her television program in 2011.  This will leave a void in the lives of millions who watch Oprah fawn over celebrities and admonish less-than-truthful memoirists on a daily basis.  That stretch, that yawning stretch between four and five pm, what will come of it?  How will we find out about the new pashmina, the new soap that we simply must have.

Where will we find out about books?  Ms. Winfrey has been the lone kingmaker in the book world since starting her book club over a decade ago.  (For a great history of Oprah’s book club, check out Max’s rundown at The Millions.)  But that’s about to end.  Of course, she’ll still have her magazine, whose book section is helmed by former Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson, and she’ll have that cable channel she’s been planning.  Maybe there will be a whole series about books.  Imagine that.

While I’m obviously joking around a bit here (if you’ll recall, I’m not much of an Oprah fan), the book world is right to be concerned.  Books could use a good advocate at the moment.  I don’t think it’s a secret that these are dark days in the bookland, and Oprah’s departure makes it a little bit darker.  Here was someone with a national platform who chose to take a portion of it and use it to talk about books.  So what does it mean now that she won’t be doing that?  It means we’re all going to have to talk about books ourselves.

Sure Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert could step in and be the hipster version of Oprah’s book pushing muscle, but I think the real answer to “Who will fill the Oprah void?” is you.  And me.  It’s up to those of us who read to become proselytizers for books and for reading in general.  Talk about books with your friends.  If you ever find yourself in a boring conversation, toss this line out there:  “What are you reading right now?”  If they don’t have an answer, tell them about something you read recently.  Join Goodreads.  Or if that isn’t your cup of tea, participate in Litchat or one of the many twitter book clubs that come up on a regular basis.  Start a book club or join one that’s already happening.  (Here are the ones we host at the store.)  Blog about your books as part of your everyday life.

If books and reading and ideas are important to you, you shouldn’t need a billionaire cult of personality to tip you off to the good ones.  People complain all the time about the decline of literary culture, and there a lot of scapegoats.  “They don’t teach kids to love reading.”  “The books aren’t as good as they used to be.”  “There are too many books.”  All of these things might be partially true, but the real truth is one that hurts:  if literary culture declines, it’s going to be because of us, because we stopped reading and because we stopped valuing it.  Don’t let that happen.  Take this opportunity to help make books an exciting part of the world, with or without Oprah.