I was in University, desperately seeking some nice pulpy distraction, when my Dad handed me my first Ken Follett novel: Pillars of the Earth. Knowing my love for anything over 500 pages in mass market form, and historical fiction (Clan of the Cave Bear in the 6th grade, up to Edward Rutherford novels in the 9th grade), he simply said "You'll like this. It's about a church." And we were off.
In the succeeding years, I'd often turn to Follett for a day or two of suspense and action. Nothing else he's written (excepting of course the new "sequel" World Without End) is like Pillars of the Earth in scope, or topic. Mostly Follett writes WWII spy stuff, a genre I wouldn't normally come near (you may know of Eye of the Needle which became a Donald Sutherland vehicle). Thing is, I liked his writing, his pace, his ability to transport the reader, his grasp of suspense (cliffhanger on the chapter ends, check!). I always describe him as writing "soap operas for men." Replace WWII France with Port Charles, and it's basically the same sort of stories. But guys like war, yeah? Ken Follett novels are one of my happy, guilty pleasures, with Pillars of the Earth always being a favourite, and one often re-read, like literary comfort food.
Then Oprah came, and bungled the whole thing.
I try to avoid the flavour of the week/month/year books (Da Vinci Code, Tuesdays With Morrie, that sort of thing). If Heather picked it, the odds are pretty good I won't. If Oprah picks it, I'm even more likely to stay away (though I did love The Corrections, controversy or no). Now, I do realise that Follett is already a hugely popular novelist, and that Oprah isn't blessing some new upstart, and outing them from obscurity (but since when has she, and with her kind of power, shouldn't that be what she's doing?). Oprah's also picked books I've long since finished, like Middlesex. So what's my issue here? There are a few:
I guess I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. All at once, I think my tastes are too good for Oprah's book club, yet I don't think Follett is good enough to be in the same company as most of the other picks. What's next, Oprah? Jackie Collins*?
In writing this entry, I came across a cool Google tool, that I'm sure has been around for a while, and I'm just discovering now. I put "Ken Follett" in the search, and the first result was the Google Books tool. If you click on a specific book it will link you up to reviews and references... oh how nice! And to think, I'd just been using the regular old search page! Anyway, I'll be using this tool a bit more in the future, and see if it comes up with anything cool.
*Ol' JC was also excellent semester break reading. When you've had it up to here with Gaskell, it's nice to read about Hollywood silliness