Former journalist and current fiction writer Steve Almond writes a letter to Oprah in his new book, (Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions, which was published this week. It's called "How This Book Became an Official Oprah Book Club™ Pick," and it's one of those "Kidding! Haha. Ok, not kidding! Okay, kidding!" type of jokes. It is pretty bonkers.
Dear Oprah Winfrey,
I am writing to inform you that I cannot accept your kind offer to name this book as your October, 2007 selection for Oprah's Book Club™. I realize this letter may come as something of a shock, given my reputation for shameless self-promotion, which I hope precedes me. I also realize that authors who cross you tend to wind up with an awful lot of egg on their faces. Fortunately, I walk around most days with a four-cheese omelette hanging from my chin, so no problem there.
The truth is, I don't give a shit how many books you sell. I don't care how much dough you give away, or how many famous people you make cry. At the end of the day, you're a TV star. You show up on a tiny screen and give lonely people a place to park their emotions for an hour. You're the world's leading retailer of inspiration. You're the Wal-Mart of Hope.
Literature, though, isn't supposed to be a convenient shopping experience. It's a solitary imaginative endeavor aimed at arousing the anguish hidden inside us, the bad news of our hearts. There's no celebrity shrink on hand to dispense hankies, no empathic host to buzz manage our tears. There's no assurance that our frail human experiment will end in triumph by the final commercial break. You tell me, Oprah: should the Savior of Publishing be available with your basic cable package?
I can already hear your fans howling for my head. But from where I'm sitting, you're just another zillionaire narcissist for whom fame (the illusion of unconditional love) has become the true goal and your public acts of good merely the means. Whatever noble cause you're pimping this week, in the end you're pimping yourself. Because if you really gave a shit about all us little people, you'd hoist your fluctuating ass out of the luxury self-help suite and express some outrage over the state of this nation: the young Americans snuffed over in Iraq, the poor ones economically sodomized by your pal Dubya, a realpolitik that dependably rewards bigotry over policy.
But outrage isn't your thing, Oprah. To express such a vulgar emotion would violate the dictates of the brand. All we have to do to solve the crisis of empathy in this country is buy your lousy magazine, right? The one with you on the cover every single fucking month. Forget confronting evil. Just keep dreaming and hoping and snuffling with Oprah, keep gulping down the aspirational sugar pills. What a crock.
The answer is no.
If that makes me an asshole, fine, I'm happy to be an asshole on behalf of literature. Someone has to be.
Until we meet again,
P.S. - Kidding! My real name is Steve Almond.
Dear Ms. Winfrey,
I'm not sure if you got the last letter I sent. I hope not. I don't want to make excuses, so I'm not going to mention that I suffer from depression, or that my infant daughter was ill, or that I'd just finished a truly disappointing blackened grouper sandwich that left me queasy and out of sorts.
The point is contrition. I'd like to apologize for the things I wrote. I talked this over with some of the folks at my publishing house yesterday - there were twelve in all, I guess - and they felt that I had done both of us a disservice by refusing your gracious (potential) offer to select my book for Oprah's Book Club™. Their contention was that insulting you may have gratified my own righteous indignation, but did little to promote the greater cause we share. That crack about your ass, for instance. I didn't mean that it literally fluctuates.
A lot of this boils down to insecurity. There's a part of me that worries you won't really choose my book for Oprah's Book Club™. The letter was my way of rejecting you before you could reject me. Pretty third-grade on my part.
I have deep respect for the work you do, not just as a media figure, but as a literary philanthropist. You could easily have hitched your wagon to the Freakshow Express, like Springer. Instead, you've spent your cultural capital encouraging people to read writers like Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. That I failed to acknowledge this reflects nothing beyond my own chronic bitterness.
This is all by way of saying that, on the off chance that you have read my previous letter, I hope you will file it under Unintended Satire, or perhaps Temporary Dementia. Rest assured, I have no plans to pull a Franzen. It would be an honor to appear on your show. And I promise not to jump on your couch! (Unless you'd like me to.)
Also, as I mentioned, I have a new daughter. Despite her recent near-fatal illness, she has fully recovered - something of a miracle, the docs say - as you can see from the photo I've enclosed. Her mother bought her the Oprah 4 Prez T-shirt.
Yours in apology & admiration,
This is going to seem a little crazy, but I'm enclosing another copy of the letter I sent along earlier this week. I know how much mail you must get. Better safe than sorry.
Great show yesterday, by the way! I have to admit that I had not given a great deal of thought to the challenges of menopause, but I appreciated how you handled the jerk who referred to his wife as Senora Hot Flasha. My wife and I had a long talk after the show and I came away with a whole new perspective. It's like you say, "Menopause isn't a process, people, it's a journey."
Let's talk soon,
P.S. Yes, another photo of our little angel. That's her peeking out from an official Oprah tote bag. What can I tell you - she's a fan!
One thought I had, in terms of planning - one of the essays in my book is about Condoleeza Rice. Long story short, I slam her pretty hard. I'm thinking it might be cool to do a show that's about "healing" the rift between Condoleeza and myself. She could (for instance) apologize for the lies that got us into the Iraq war, and I could apologize for referring to her as "the President's office wife." Then we might hug. Or do some music together. Or both.
Think about it.
Just a silly note to tell you that my wife and I rented The Color Purple. Again. What can I tell you? You got jobbed at the Oscars. Your performance made Anjelica Huston's look like dinner theater. Also: my publicist was wondering when I might hear back from you. (I explained about your schedule, but you know how these people get.)
Also also: Would it be too forward for me to refer to you, in future correspondences, as my homegirl?
Oprah in '08!
Last night I was looking through The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey: A Portrait in Her Own Words and I came across this quote.
"I don't do anything unless it feels good. I don't move on logic. I move on my gut. And I have a good gut!"
You were talking about your business philosophy. But it got me thinking about your actual gut, and the way the tabloids cover it so obsessively. (Extra! Extra! Oprah Gains Four Pounds!) It's like, in a way, your body has become public property, up there on display for everybody to gawk at and poke and prod. I'm sure this thought has occurred to you a few million times, but here you are, the most influential black woman in human history, and somehow you're still the white man's slave.
That's fucked up.
There's more, too. He crazy.