Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oprah's On

Last night I did something I haven't done since college. I watched Oprah.

I had recorded the show to see Cormac McCarthy talk about The Road, but as luck would have it Michael Moore was also on the show, and I got to see several clips of Sicko. I'm paid not to like insurance companies very much, but Moore's argument that there is no place for a profit motive in health care should prove compelling to a lot of people.

Oprah's interview with McCarthy, however, wasn't very compelling. In fact, I was surprised to discover that for all her cultural primacy, Oprah isn't especially good at what she does. Her speech included several bizarre accents, as if she were reading from a teleprompter and didn't know the words she was reading. And the interview itself was quite odd. When McCarthy told Oprah that he hadn't minded being dirt poor for part of his life, and that he didn't care much how well his books sold, the billionaire striver in her seemed not to know what to do.

She also didn't really get into the book at all. I understand that she can't assume everyone watching has read it, but other than getting McCarthy to recollect a moment years ago that provided the impetus for his writing, Oprah pretty much left the book itself alone. She touched on a few themes, sure, but I would have liked to see McCarthy talk more about the levels on which it can be read. He also might have pushed her off the ledge of specificity; my reading of the book was that much of what went before and all of what comes after it are meant to be somewhat opaque. I am sure, though, that the movie version, already in the works, will insert all manner of detail and thus get the mood of the thing completely wrong.

In any case, despite her flaws as an interviewer I have to give Oprah credit. She may not be the best at discussing books, but she often makes bang-up choices. Her next pick, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, is one of my top ten books of the new millennium (along with The Corrections, another Oprah pick). If you haven't read it, now's the time!

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