Warning: What Follows is Pretentious

by Christopher David Lawton

I just bought Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve never read Franzen before, but the descriptions appear to be something I want to read. Plus, the book has been praised by everyone and their mother, so I figure it’ll either be an amazing story, or I’ll hate it so much. And if it’s the second, then I’ll get an opportunity to look down my nose at people and say, “Oh. You like that.”

Win-win.

After ordering the book, and sending it to my Kindle, I opened up my E-Mail to find a receipt, which I expect every time I order something digitally. What I did not expect, however, was the title of the book:

Freedom: A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club)

Now, I’m admittedly kind of stupid, but I don’t think that’s the title of the book. In fact, looking at the cover, I don’t believe Oprah had anything to do with the book, other than selecting it as something she really liked. I have no problem with that. If the book is really as good as people say, then good on Oprah for telling people about it. That’s some real Reading Rainbow stuff there, which is awesome.

But, why put that in the title? Is Oprah’s opinion so much better than mine, that she deserves credit for Franzen’s work? Is that what they’re saying? Again, I have no problem with her liking the book and recommending it. But, at what point, does your celebrity grow so big that you can change the title of a book just by recommending it?

Is it Oprah big? (Note: Not a fat joke. Okay. Kind of a fat joke.)

I would ask an extremely pretentious question at this point, like: Remember when we didn’t need celebrities to tell us what to like? But, I’m not even sure I could answer that question. For as long as I’ve been alive, and probably my parents and grandparents before me, celebrities have used their fame to peddle face creams, deodorant and candy bars. This is really no different.

I suppose I should be happy that Oprah is using her massive fame to promote a book that many people consider brilliant, and I am. At least she’s not using her fame to deride wearing underwear, like some other celebrities. (Note: That was clearly a fat joke.) I just wish we’d all remember that Oprah’s fame does not automatically make her recommendation gold. After all, her fame gave us James Frey and Tom Cruise jumping on a couch. And only one of those things is awesome.