Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Oprah's Readers Clock In

Earlier I posted how there is a bit of a "turf war" (thanks L.M.) on a Cormac McCarthy online book club I have participated in for ten years.

The discussion has been divided into seems to be predominantly that Oprah introducing the novel The Road is a boost because the novel is thoughtprovoking and maybe even important because it deals with an extinction level event...and a father and son trying to survive a dead world. The more people who consider the dangers of environmental or nuclear devastaion, the better we may prevent or be prepared in case of such an event. (the novel does not say how the devastation to the earth is ambiguous to a degree). And most importantly, that Cormac McCarthy is an incredible writer and more people will be introduced to his work.

Another camp feels that Oprah's audience isn't savvy enough to understand McCarthy's novel. This group of people thinks housewives can't handle the truth. Or that the Oprah audience is a fluffy crowd. They wish McCarthy was doing an interview on PBS. Oprah is percieved as "the Man" or corporate...and has McCarthy "sold out"?

I posted some distilled comments from these two camps here.

First here are some readers guide questions posted at Oprah's book club:

Provided by Vintage Books, a division of
Random House, Inc.,New York, the publisher of The Road

1) Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the writing in The Road in some ways more like poetry than narrative prose?

2)Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?

3)How is McCarthy able to make the post-apocalyptic world of The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying? Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who inhabit it?

4)McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash? What is implied by the father's statement that, "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world," [p. 32]?

Now here are some comments from Oprah's online book club:

"I am a librarian and I read this book a month ago. I could not put it down and was carrying at around the house, reading it as I made supper and did laundry; I was done in a day and a half. My kids kept saying, "That must be a good book, Mom." I wouldn't describe it as good; I would describe it as one of the most important books I have ever read. I have told anyone who would listen, "You've got to read this book," but only you, Oprah, could take it to the level of readership where it needs to be. This is a difficult and disturbing book, one that must be read again and again and again, for I believe it has many messages. Over all the years and all the books, this one is your best pick yet."

"I think McCarthy left the cause of the end of the world ambiguous so that the situation could apply to any number of causes, of which humanity is now flirting. My book club discussed this very issue at length and we couldn't come to an agreement. Most of us think it was a large scale nuclear attack that happened several years ago - hence the burnt landscape. The natural disasters and bleak skies are the result of a nuclear winter. A major meteor impact might also yield the same results."

"For those of you asking about the trout at the mythology fish always represent rebirth and ressurection. (Joseph Campbell) Fish are also used as a symbol for Christ and thus, a symbol of hope. The ichthys (or fish) also symbolizes Christianity. Ichthus is an acronym of "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour". And, of course, there is always the possibility that Cormac McCarthy happens to like trout. But my money is on rebirth and resurrection."

"After finishing the novel, I put it down and sighed. The novel shows that civilization is a thin veneer, and once that veneer is completely destroyed, humans' capacity for good and evil is revealed. Unfortunately, McCarthy shows the "bad guys" winning. The question is, do they ultimately win, or can the "good guys" somehow continue evade them and survive? Unfortunately, I think not."

"I have long been a huge fan of his and received "The Road" for Christmas. It is a very different genre for him but I had no difficulty identifiying his style and grace with literature. The first book I read of his was "Blood Meridien". I have gone back and read almost everything by him since.

I hear he will be appearing on the show and hope to be notified when that episode will air. What a treat to see the only TV interview the man has ever done! Probably that he ever will! I've never known many people who have read him, unless I force it on them, so it's nice to see him getting the recognition he so richly deserves.

Thanks Oprah, Bravo!!!"

"McCarthy cleverly avoids the specifics of the devastating event so that the reader can't pick holes in any facts regarding the post-catastrophe environment. I agree that the nature of the event is irrelevant in the face of such loss, but for what it's worth it bears all the hallmarks of a progressing nuclear winter. 'Watching distant cities burn' - nuclear warheads, if detonated over flammable terrain such as that of a city, result in masses of smoke spewing into the atmosphere and blocking out the sun's light.

McCarthy does allude to it being the whole world that has become void of life - 'By day the sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp'.

If you can judge a book's quality on how much it affected you, then this is probably the greatest book I have ever read, even though there are times when I wish I hadn't.

The unique punctuation style makes each word feel heavy, like they're all carved from the same piece of rock. The nameless characters, dispossessed of identity, further bring this believable world into sharper focus. There is not a moment in this book that doesn't resonate.

These stripped down, bear bones techniques suit the shear hopelessness of the story. I've never read a book like it and probably won't again.

It is fair to say that today's world could perhaps lead to a tomorrow like the one described in The Road; it's stuff people give thought to now perhaps more than at any other time in our history.

The Road makes you worry not only about what will happen to its tragically small family, but also about what will happen to us.

nb. For those who are interested, the story will be turned into a film with John Hillcoat as director."

"I must say that this is the first time I have ever read this author. I'm grateful for the opportunity to read his special style. I did enjoy the book despite the grimm subject matter. It was engaging and thought provoking. Many of you have read other books by Cormac McCarthy so I would like to know if he has written anything with a more positive perspective. Suggestions for my next read by him would be helpful. Oprah is wonderful exposing us to all sorts of literature."

"Mr. McCarthy gripped my very soul, heart and mind; making the realization that we humans who have come so far(but capable of our own desruction) can very quickly lose everything but our instinct for survival. My imagination assumed 'mankind at some time of war' finally destroyed the earth and what few survivor existed were compelled to survive at a daily pace of hopeless fear desolation and distrust. In some cases cannibalism. The good guys 'carring the fire' only have hope if they should stumble onto a part of then earth where vegetation reappears and there is some life other than human. Otherwise when all resources are spent the only thing left is continued cannibalism. Mr. McCarthy knows how to grip the very soul."

"Oprah, how could you put this book on your list? After learning about the law of attraction, how could you recommend this book? I've studied the law of attraction (metaphysics) for 30 years and I'm shocked that you made such a choice. Yes, it's a great book. God had blessed Cormac McCarthy with enormous talent. But you have set the wheels in motion for millions of people to focus their attention on a dying, savage world, albeit a fictitious one. The law of attraction shows us that even when we focus on fiction, we attract that energy into our world. This energy could set things back on our planet. "What we focus on, we attract!" I've read your message boards...many readers are depressed and crying from reading "The Road". Please, Oprah, talk to the experts on metaphysics about this if you don't believe me. "People are affecting reality with their thoughts and beliefs every day"..Dr.Fred Alan Wolf, a physicist who conducts research on the relationship of quantum physics to consciousness and author of 7 books on metaphysics. Dr. Candace Pert; author of "Molecules of Emotion".."The external world is a mirror of our beliefs and expectations." I know a lot about human emotion; my great uncle, Dr. Charnly McKinley, created the MMPI, the most widely used psychological profile test in use today. As you know, many people are highly suggestible. Ask Dr. Christiane Northrup about this. She won't even watch the 10pm news because the violence is so overwhelming, it affects her on a physiological level. This is going to take a lot of damage control"

"What were you thinking, Oprah? This is such a stupid, poorly written book that I cannot believe you picked it. I don't have to worry about being invited to the Book Club dinner/discussion to gush over any great writing. Were the commas and apostrophes lost in the constant rain, snow and ash? Lack of attention to this detail is a poor literary device. Even science fiction books ought to have a plausible underlying story. This does not. So how did the man and his son survive all those years in cold temperatures before it eventually occurred to them to move south toward the ocean for a warmer climate? Even if two people are together a long time, they sometimes use the name of the child in conversation, but apparently they forgot that. Why would anybody come upon a bunker with survival gear and then decide to move on? There is so little dialogue and then many times the words are all about whether the son is still talking to the father! Boring! Good plots do not hinge on coincidence, but in this book, yup, after seeing nobody trustworthy or mentally competent for years, suddenly the minute Dad dies, they appear to take the boy with them. This is a rotten book and I was mad I spent the money for it. Usually, I like Oprah picks, but this is a big time clinker."

"I was rather surprised that Oprah selected this book for her book club and it has garnered such rave reviews. I read this book last September when it was first released after hearing about it on the Glenn Beck radio show. I am a huge fan of books written in this genre, that being post apocalyptic fiction. Maybe it is from growing up in the 70’s and 80’s with movies like Red Dawn and The Day After.

In any case, the book is a short read and I knocked it out in one evening\late night. I was disappointed with the lack of character development in the book. The author spent the majority of words detailing the absolute hellish conditions that existed for the characters. I kept waiting for something to happen to the characters but nothing really did and then the ending did nothing more than to anger me. I just thought, I stayed up reading until 3am and this is the end? In my opinion it was more like a rough draft or a piece of a novel rather than the finished product. I was really blown away by all of the deep meanings people seamed to draw from this book when I simply felt depressed and empty."

"When I purchased and began to read this book, I was so enthralled that I finished it in 8 hours. Of the many volumes of books that I have read over the years, none have affected me like this. I am the father of a 2 year old, and all I could think about when I finished was holding him in my arms. This book inspires the reader to look inside and evaluate who you are, and what values you hold dear."

"The messages I've read so far do not mention God or His commandments, or our survival in every way depending upon our choice to obey these commandments and laws of God. The first and most important law is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength; and to love others as you love yourself. If we can fully obey this law we will automatically obey every other law God has ever given to us. In obeying, we survive in every way that matters, and we do so joyfully, no matter what comes. What will come is already known by God. All you can do in the face of that which God has already revealed is to get your part right, be obedient, trust, and be joyful so that you set a good example for others to follow."

"I inhaled this book. His prose is remarkable, and the characters amazing. I felt such a total lack of color throughout, reminding me of the people crossing the bridge, September 11. We are so close to this."

"I am an ardent fan of Cormac McCarthy and am elated that The Road was selected for the Book Club.

I found The Road to vary from some of his earlier writings. His sentence structure has become a little simpler in both No Country for Old Men and The Road. Yet, he still makes wonderful use of the language to convey his story. Yes, he still does not use conventional punctuation, and is not afraid to use a wonderfully varied vocabulary throughout.

I find it very interesting that at the end, the boy survives carrying the fire on with the couple. To me, he symbolizes hope for the future. He keeps the Father from being as brutal as the other people that they meet in their travels. His faith is simple and childlike.

This ending is very unlike the ending of Blood Meridian where the totally amoral Judge kills the youth in an outhouse.

I look forward to seeing the interview with him and following the discussion here."

"I've been carrying this book with me for months, encouraging others to read it. It's the closest thing to a life-changing experience I've ever had with a book and I have a degree in Comparative Literature! With Oprah, it will get the readership it deserves."
50's Housewife


Wylie Kinson said...

Looks like those fluff-loving brain-dead housewives can barely form a solid sentence *grin*

Hey - I'm no fan of Oprah, but wouldn't dare accuse her audience of lesser intelligence. What does that make me? Stupider? ;0

-C said...

Oprah's previous books have not all been fluff either. I read "Anna Karenina" along with her a couple of summers ago.

And I'm no housewife.

I love Cormac McCarthy, so I was both shocked and pleased when she chose his book. I was even more surprised he argeed to do an interview with her.

* (asterisk) said...

I know nothing really of Oprah's book club thing, but The Road seems an unlikely book to be tied to Oprah in any way. The readers' comments are interesting, though. Candy, you know my views on The Road already. But I did like the story. And I liked the ending. It seemed like the only possible ending.

Gardenia said...

Another great post - I've never thought of being in a book discussion group - but I see I'm missing a lot because of that. I'm glad to read this post as I feel I've participating without participating - ah, is that a duh statement?

I found the photos an interesting choice - it bought me back to a time as a young child (in the "nostalgic 50's") remembering the run on purchases and installation of personal bomb shelters and looking out the front door wondering what it would look like to see a nuclear warhead hit the horizon. I worried a lot because our family could not afford a bomb shelter of our very own.