On Buying an Oprah Book Club Book

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I have friends who shudder at the thought of the Oprah Book Club. They look down their long slender noses at such middle-brow meddling in the great work of literature. And I think that they are much like many of my college professors, who despised Charles Dickens because he told stories that appealed to a great swath of the population.

I neither buy nor shy away from a book because it has Oprah's imprimatur. Of recent date, I had been ignoring Oprah's endorsement of Anna Karenina. That is to say, I was not tempted to by the book by the fact that it was a summer selection. On the other hand, it was very gratifiying to have it thrust into my face again.

I will readily admit, I have never read Anna Karenina. I've tried many, many times. But no matter how often I tried, I never got to the point in the book where Anna's name was first mentioned. I could not force my way through the weariness and dreariness of the domestic arrangements of the Oblonsky family. In truth, I regarded it as a "woman's book"--a sort of high-class romance gone awry.

Now, I have read War and Peace. By its very title you can tell that this is a man's man book. Bristling and macho from the word go (NOT). But something about the narrative in War and Peace drew me in and through the entire work, even though it took me forever to read it.

Well, I'm pleased to say that I bought the Oprah recommended translation of Anna Karenina and I have read to the point (and beyond) where Anna's name is first mentioned. It's amazing what difference a translation can make. This particular translation makes the book seem modern, a right now story of love and lust in Tsarist Russia. Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but there is a freshness and a simplicity to this translation that is engaging. The table of characters is enormously helpful in sorting out who is related to whom and how. Moreover there are notes at the end that explain some of the more obscure elements of the text.

I'll let you know if I make it thorugh this time. But prospect are better, and I have Oprah to thank for it. Thanks Oprah, you do a great service to the community at large through promoting reading. Keep up the good work!

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I am glad you have been able to get into Anna K. a little more. I read it last year and found it interesting.

You are absolutely correct about the huge difference between translations,


Another one lost to the Oprahficator!

I have tried many times to read "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, always without success. It was required in High School, but I couldn't finish it. Then one summer I got it into my head to read cover to cover all the books I had skimmed or skipped entirely from high school, and succeeded in all cases save this one. (I even got mentioned in a Bob Levey column in the WaPo for doing so, they Levey never knew my name; he merely spotted me on the subway, reading books that most people skip.)

Sadly, Conrad was his own translator, as it were, and so I'm never likely to finish it.


Dear JB,

For the longest time, that was my experience of Heart of Darkness and the vast majority of Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne. And then something happened--it was as though something clicked in my head, and there I was, reading them all. Now Heart of Darkness is on my all-time greats list along with several other works I could never finish before--Altar of the Dead, Turn of the Screw, The Scarlet Letter. But I do sympathize.

By the way, great to hear from you after so long an absence!





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 20, 2004 7:21 AM.

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