Dispatches | September 22, 2008

Among the weekend’s big publishing stories is Oprah’s selection for her book club of a debut novel by David Wroblewski.  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which had already made the NYT best-seller list this summer, is billed as an epic with a tinge of mystery, about a mute boy who communicates with dogs (his family raises them).  Wroblewski acknowledges the influence of Hamlet  on the story, which, he also says, is intensely personal and took him ten years to write.

Whatever difficulties you may have with the fact that Oprah fans and ambivalent readers go along with her book club choices seemingly like sheep, lay them aside for a minute or two.  Think about what it means to a writer to  spend a decade on a labor of love, knowing that the likeliest scenario is that it will be published to minimal acclaim and gain a small number of readers–and then to have it all validated a hundred times over, with money and an enormous readership and international publicity.  For a writer, it’s like being transported to heaven without the death part.

I haven’t read the book yet.  Not everyone takes their cues from Oprah, and if I read Wroblewski’s novel it will be when my book-choosing hormones compel me in that direction.  But I think it’s worth noting today that the celebrity-obsessed culture we book-loving types complain about can actually bring people together with good books.  When was the last time you convinced someone to read Anna Karenina?

Take a look at the list of Oprah’s past selections.  I’d forgotten how many great modern and contemporary classics she’s promoted.  Aspiring novelists, take note:  write your heart out, and you could be the next winner of her literary lottery.