The Mixed Up Feelings of a Former Bookseller: On Oprah

 It seems like everyone is rediscovering what a cultural giant Oprah Winfrey is as a result of the Harry and Meghan interview. Part of this is surely generational, but for those of us who were in the trenches of the book industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Oprah stirs up some complicated feelings. 

She's a wonderful interviewer. She's always been fabulous at that. She has the journalism creds. She's built a multi-billion dollar empire. You don't do that by accident. There's plenty to admire about her, but as a new college grad selling books at Barnes and Noble, I kinda hated her. 

The vast majority of people who gravitate to work at a place like Barnes and Noble are readers. It's been underpaid for decades. People make consistently more working at fast food chains. You go in with naive expectations of being surrounded by books, which you would think would be heaven. And it can be. But you also have things called customers, and THOSE can be the absolute worst. Entitled, snooty, rude, abusive... And some of the very worst, the Karens before we had Karens, were the women who came in looking for the newest book in the Oprah Book Club. 

I admire the hell out of how many books and careers Oprah helped launch. I do. She and JK Rowling (love them or hate them) dominated the book scene for decades. And they got people reading. And they sold so so so many books. But woe be unto you if your store happened to be out of the newest pick. Eventually, they started releasing print runs specifically for Oprah's announcements...and even still, there were times we couldn't get the book out of receiving and onto the floor fast enough. I cannot count the number of times I had to explain that we didn't have an Oprah section (until we did) and that explaining the plot when you didn't have a title didn't help us all that much since the plot lines of her books were so incredibly similar they all kind of ran together.

I also felt a little squicked out by how cult-like so many of those readers were. It wasn't that they were excited to read the books so much as that they were desperate to be part of the cultural conversation. It wasn't so much about exploring different stories as it was finding an excuse to drink wine. Which is fine, but as someone who genuinely loves books, I wish she had found a wider variety of stories to highlight. I wish we had seen some genuine depth in those clubs. And I wish the people who clamored for those books weren't so goddamn awful to the people who had to deal with them.


Pandemic Brain and the Comfort Read/Watch

This blog has been empty for months. No reviews. No commentary. No rants. I haven't had much to say that required a longer format than the short bursts of thoughts I post to Twitter. I have managed to keep reading throughout these long 11 months, but much of what I've read has been either rereads, short story or novella anthologies, or a few trusted authors. The few books I've tried from authors I don't normally read fit a very specific pattern: lighter, contemporary, and highly recommended by people on Twitter. But even those are maybe a handful. 

I've noticed the same inability to engage with new content in my viewing habits as well. Lots of people excited about new shows, and I just put on the same movie I've watched a hundred times. One I can fall asleep to and wake up knowing where I am in the plot. Or TV series I watch over and over. The only new show I've managed to stick with is Mandalorian, and that's mainly because of Hubs who loves all things Star Wars. And Baby Yoda.

Part of my pandemic brain is just the general malaise and depression and sense of stagnation many of us are feeling. That fog where time doesn't matter and moments just seem to blend into each other. Part of it is also that I haven't had a single day to myself in eleven months. Quite literally, I was typing the title to this post and my eldest teen son walked in to comment "Oh, you've got the blog going again?' Just...argh. I am an introvert, and the lack of space, the lack of being alone is probably the absolute worst part of this. I was used to those hours with the kids at school where I could turn on loud music and clean the house or settle in a chair and read for hours uninterrupted. Now, I have to tiptoe around every morning while the kids are on Zoom and despite that still feel like I'm constantly on the verge of being interrupted. And I am. Texts, emails, reminders going off all morning, every morning. There's a deluge of individual notifications for each assignment that's posted. There are the reminders for the kids. There's the questions from other parents who look to me for help. It's just endless interruptions.

In light of that, I'm going to try to ease back into putting stuff on the blog. It probably won't be formal reviews until I can get my groove back, but here's the list of new to me books I managed to read this last month or three:

Blue background with shamrocks TItle says Beginners Luck by Kate Clayborn

I read this one in December. It's the first Clayborn book that I've read (that I can remember) and I really enjoyed it. I bought the next two in the series as well, which are good, but not as a good as this one. This one was special. I suspect it was the nerdy science stuff I loved so much, but of the series, this was my favorite.

This was my first Olivia Dade book, too. And it was everywhere on Twitter when it was released., so naturally I stayed far, far away from it. Until it went on sale of course. There's quite a bit of stuff about fandom that went over my head, but it did buck the usual trend I have of buzzed books not working for me. I liked it. I didn't think it was as amazing as some people who adored it, but it kept me engaged.

Nothing about this book should have worked for me. I read the first in the series, The Hook Up, and thought it was ok. And the preview of this book was in it. It instantly sucked me in, and I went with it. This book is a NA-ish sports romance written in alternating first person PRESENT, which is pretty much every single thing I dislike. And yet. 

It starts as a modern day epistolary novel. Told through texts for a large chunk of the beginning. There's a playfulness to the conversations and honesty that I haven't seen in a long time, and I just loved everything about this book. Which is, again, WEIRD. Because I should absolutely hate it.

I've read Talia Hibbert before and liked her, but none of her books have ever really just made me laugh the way this one did. For a book with characters who have heavy backstories, I found myself laughing at some of the outrageousness here. It was just a wonderful book to sink into from the very first page.





As for my rereads, they are legion. There's the audiobook rereads (re-listens?) which are basically all five Lady Sherlock books and the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews on a constant loop. Then there's the books, which seems to be everything Lisa Kleypas, old school Nora Roberts (we're talking Stanislaski) and old Stephanie Laurens novellas I know I read when they came out, but decided to reread when I found the anthologies on sale in digital. I'm edging into new book territory by attempting to restart the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris. I've read the first few, but didn't remember them, so I started back at book one. I'm currently on book two. Fingers crossed.