layout: post title: “The Hall Calls: Volume 2” url_title: hall-calls-vol2 categories:
date: 2005-06-07 summary: What happens when your favorite artist goes mainstream? What happens when your favorite indy rock band that you used to see in a dive makes the big time? What happens when your favorite author gets into the Oprah Book Club? —
Two nights ago my old friend Jackson Hall gave me a ring. It was urgent, but Jackson is always urgent.
“Have you heard the news?” he said.
I ran down the day’s events in my mind, as seen by CNN, nothing spectacular had happened that I was aware of. The European Constitution wasn’t looking like it was going to happen, Bush was still the president, Elvis was still dead.
“Well hold on to yourself, because this is big.” He continued, a mild sense of irony in his voice. “Oprah’s chosen a new summer reading series.”
I’ve not actually seen an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show since I was in high school. Back then she was still doing the “lesbian nun” type of talk show (and it was back when the subject of “lesbian nuns” would have sounded odd on daytime TV). She was only a half a notch above Geraldo in class. My memories of actually watching Oprah predate Dr. Phil, car giveaways, random acts of kindness, “fixing people’s lives” and the inevitable book club.
“You’ll never guess what she’s picked out!” Jackson shouted.
I knew this had to be bad. There’s no way he would call with the sole purpose of chatting about Oprah’s Book club if it didn’t somehow have a connection with our tastes. What could it be? I thought. Obviously, it had to be an author that we both loved, else Jackson would have called someone besides myself.
Cormac McCarthy was the first to enter my mind; but I knew an author who wrote vivid passages about intercourse with watermelons and necklaces of human ears would have a hard time making an inroads to the famed but unadventurous Oprah Book Club. But what other contemporary author would cause Jackson to ring up the house past midnight? We were both in the midst of reading Don DeLillo, and Jay Parini’s recent biography of William Faulkner. Then it hit me: her editors have been choosing classics lately. So what classic author is it?
“It’s Faulkner!” he said. My fears realized.
I’ve recommended Faulkner to everyone I know for the past seven years. “He invented American literature.” I would say. My mother took up the offer when I told her she “just had to read” As I Lay Dying. She said she liked it, but never read anything else by him. My efforts to spread the love of William Faulkner’s writing have been mostly in vain.
My mind reeled. Oprah’s now doing the same thing I’ve been doing for seven years. And she’s going to do it far more successfully than I could ever hope to. I can’t help but resent this.
“She’s chosen three. She’s boxed them all together and put her sticker on them.” Jackson was upset about this coup de theatre. “You’ll never guess which books she chose.”
“Um.” I felt like I was on the spot. As if by being a huge fan of the author I should also have some insight on the Book Club’s Editors’ thoughts. “As I Lay Dying.” I said. This one was easy. Everyone knows that As I Lay Dying is the perfect Faulkner starter book. Then I thought summer reading, what’s the closest ol’ Bill ever got to writing summer reading? “Sanctuary? and, um, Light in August?”
“Wow,” Jackson said. “You got two of the three. I only guessed one.”
“What did I get wrong?”
“Sanctuary. You know she wouldn’t choose Sanctuary. That’s got a corn-cob rape in it.”
“I think you’re giving Oprah a hard time here. She’s had some rape and murder books in her club. And it sounds like she left out Faulkner’s easiest summer reading book. So at least she’s not taking the easy way out.”
“You know what the third book is? The Sound and the Fury”
“Jeez. The Sound and the Fury? That’s interesting. That’s not summer reading. She’s definitely not taking the easy way out. That book is half narrated by an idiot man-child. Oprah shouldn’t throw that one at unsuspecting house wives. She should ease them into it.”
“Wouldn’t you love to hear the house-wife discussion group of that one? But she had to choose one book with an idiot man-child. It wouldn’t be Faulkner without that.”
“Wow, huge theses have been written on that. That would be great discussion piece for house-wives.”
“So what’s your thought’s on this Pike?” Jackson asked.
I suppose he was expecting one of my tirades. I suppose I expected it myself. I expected to say something about how Faulkner should be sought out by those who seek good books, not paraded about on talk shows and repackaged for the masses. The masses don’t want Faulkner. Faulkner’s books have been around for decades. The masses want Nicholas Sparks. Now tens of thousands of people will buy his books, not because they’re seeking literature (everyone’s heard of William Faulkner and everyone knows where to find him. It’s not like he’s some undiscovered writer lurking in the deep recesses of Border’s Booksellers’ archives), but because Oprah recommended him. There will be many disappointed and many confused. The Sound and the Fury is a difficult book for anyone to read. Meanwhile many undiscovered writers will continue to hope for a few more sells.
But I said nothing like this. I simply said, “Well, maybe Faulkner will be introduced to a wider audience now. And that can only be good, right?”
There was a bit of a pause. “Yeah, I guess.” He said. “I still think it’s weird.”
“It is weird.” I said. “The weird thing is: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August. I think those were my first three Faulkner novels. Those are exactly what I recommend to people.”
There was a long silence on the phone. In our own elitist, Faulkner-loving blood, there simply is no room for Oprah, even if she did fix people’s lives and give away cars on any given weekday afternoon. The biggest realization of this week was that Jackson, Oprah and I share a common bond. We’ve all lived in Tennessee and we all recommend Faulkner. And that, surprisingly enough, sits just fine with me.