Media Circus

OK, show of hands: Who gives a damn what Kelly Ripa thinks about a particular book?

All of you saying "Who’s Kelly Ripa?" aside, I know no hands are up because no one will admit they choose their next read based on what talk show hosts have to say. Even when Queen Oprah was making her bookish decrees, finding someone to acknowledge that they were following her lead was like trying to find someone who could truthfully say they had read John Adams cover to cover.

Just as those billions of album sales meant someone was listening to Abba, we do listen to Oprah and her ilk even when we disavow it, and those book picks do translate into big sales. When Oprah announced she couldn’t find anything good to read anymore, others quickly filled the void.

First up was Kelly Ripa on Live, who said she liked Kate White’s If Looks Could Kill. After the inaugural outing of her "Reading With Ripa" segment, the book shot to No. 1 on Amazon.com. This caused people to go from saying, "Who’s Kelly Ripa?" to "Who’s Kate White and why am I reading this crap again?"

Speaking of Amazon, I must admit I’m a sucker for the reader reviews that clutter the site. This brings up the question of why I’d be more inclined to believe some random guy in Sarasota opining about the latest John Irving novel than I would, say, Kelly Ripa, who, if nothing else, is cute and makes scads more dough than I ever will.

I don’t know. I worry about people who actually take the time to compose lengthy reviews on Amazon because A) they’re doing it for free, which offends the professional writer in me, and B) they’re doing it for free, which means they’ve got way too much time on their hands and are probably nuts.

The Web, you’ve no doubt noticed, has almost as many forums for opinion as it does banner ads for car insurance, and you don’t have to be an expert on anything to offer your pearls. All you need is a rudimentary knowledge of HTML or the URL of some site that will publish your opinion without asking you annoying questions like those posed by most newspapers: Did you actually write this? Are you who you say you are? Did you know this is a libelous, uninformed piece of rubbish?

Opinions, as they say, are like hearts, livers, or anti-depressant prescriptions: Everyone’s got one, and you no longer have to be an expert of any kind to have them aired or published. Time was, it was only august media outlets and learned critics who offered commentary that anyone paid any attention to when it came to literature and the arts. And if you don’t have a talk show from which to hold forth, you can still make your opinion — informed or not — available to the whole world via the website you pay $39.99 a year to maintain.

Since the roles of the a talk show host and a literary critic are melding, I can’t help but wonder what’s next: local newscasters offering verdicts on the perps of the latest crime sprees; and court TV show hosts picking stocks.

If that sounds absurd, just ask Kate White if she’d like to disparage Kelly Ripa’s literary judgment.

T. Alex Miller writes from L.A.

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