J.M. Tyree of The Nation praises TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey’s decision to promote three novels by William Faulkner.
By proposing to read not one but three works by a dead white male whose
prose laid siege to the conventions of narrative fiction, and whose
furiously lyrical exploration of race and the American South still
manages to unsettle readers, Oprah is taking a major gamble on her
audience’s attention span and political sensitivities. Once again,
she has proved she is a more serious reader than many people–that is,
anybody besides her millions of fans–reckoned. The woman Forbes
magazine recently dubbed the most powerful celebrity in America seems
intent on using some of her cultural capital for the brave if improbable
purpose of a Faulkner revival–a project that reflects her belief in
uplift through education.
Everybody agrees that the market for literary fiction has been gradually collapsing over the past few years. [...] The temptation to blame the reader must be strong. The Big Five think they merely reflect taste rather than shape it, and pundits add to this bad feedback loop by pandering to a dumber-than-thou audience they help perpetuate, while at the same time lording it over popular culture with snarky reviews. By reviving the classics, the much-maligned Oprah’s Book Club has become a thorn in the side of this blinkered vision of Middle America, holding out the hope that a great many readers are hungry for something more substantial than the usual fare of celebrity and ephemeral sensation.