The Magazine

As I Lay Reading

Oprah makes the pilgrimage to Yoknapatawpha.

Sep 5, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 47 • By DAVID SKINNER
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What's most striking about Oprah's choice of Faulkner is rarely mentioned: how radically Faulkner diverges from the self-congratulatory spirit at the heart of the Oprah philosophy. The family in As I Lay Dying, the Bundrens, are low beings, barely civilized, suffocating burdens to themselves and others, eking out a hard life from the land. They are victims of circumstance--but predators, too. Chained to their awful fates by family and history, they lack the sweet and divine spark of self-creation that's at the fingertips of every human being, according to Oprah's many statements on the subject.

"The reason for living," according to Addie Bundren, whose corpse is the one being transported, is "to get ready to stay dead for a long time." For Oprah, life's great aim is to be your most amazing, beautiful, and beloved self.

Yet what brings Oprah to Faulkner is clearly related to this very divide. Her critics say she's not literary? That she's not deep? Well, she'll show them. She'll read the hardest, greatest, novels around, ones fraught with Major Issues like Race and Tragedy and Violence. They'll never call her a lightweight again. Of course, this is classic A-student behavior, in which all intellectual work becomes a project in search of extra credit, while the true lover of literature quietly works at the feet of masters, never imagining that if he just sets his mind to Faulkner for a summer, he'll have been there and done that.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.