Four thoughts on Cormac McCarthy...(and two on Oprah Winfrey)

1. Cormac McCarthy has an eight-year-old son. Cormac McCarthy is married to his third wife. Also, he's 73. It's lovely that his young son was there to inspire his masterwork, and maybe literary lions are exempt from the rules and conventions that bind the rest of us, but, barring a nuclear holocaust, McCarthy's going to be 83 when young John Francis finishes high school, and 87 when his son earns his college degree. This didn't even earn him a raised eyebrow from our reigning queen of personal responsibility?

2. Cormac McCarthy was poor. (How poor was he?) So poor that he couldn't afford toothpaste!

One of the more cliched features of the writing life is the fetishization of penury, the whole my-garret-was-smaller-and-colder-than-yours one-upmanship that goes on among authors as they strive to romanticize their early years, before they won every prize and fellowship handed out in the English-speaking world. I just wonder whether McCarthy's first wife, and first son, were as happy burnishing the myth of the struggling, starving, lecture-fee-spurning artiste as McCarthy himself was. You want to be all stinky-breathed and starving in a forty-dollar-a-week flophouse, do it on your lonesome. You've got a wife and kids? Get over yourself and take a paying lecture gig every once in a while.

3. On a related note, can you think of any female author in the history of time who'd brag about being too broke to afford toothpaste? For guys, it gets an "awwww." For girls, I imagine, it'd get an "ew!"

4. Cormac McCarthy does not do soundbites. Which is his prerogative. I just wish Oprah's sound people had realized they had a mumbler on their hands and miked him accordingly.

1. Oprah's choices are boring me.

She picked NIGHT. I read it in high school. She picked THE ROAD. I read it in hardcover. She chooses MIDDLESEX. I read it in 2002. I liked it much better when she was sprinkling her fairy dust over debut novelists, or authors who'd toiled in genuine poverty and obscurity before she placed her hand upon them...because, from a purely selfish standpoint, it's a lot more fun to be introduced to a writer you'd never heard of, and maybe never would hear of, until somebody pointed you in their direction. I loved some of her picks, was less enamored of others, but at least they were usually a surprise. Now she's playing it safe, and soft, and I wish that she wouldn't.

Jeffrey Eugenides is an especially vexing choice, given that his book was already a huge success -- one report I read said there were 750,000 copies of MIDDLESEX in print, which makes it a blockbuster by anyone's standards. Oprah picking him is sort of like giving a million-dollar check to someone who's already won the lottery. On behalf of my genuinely struggling-in-garrets colleagues, I'm disappointed.

And I'm also wondering whether, in the wake of the James Frey debacle, Winfrey isn't making safe choices to safeguard against future scandals. Both THE ROAD and MIDDLESEX won the Pulitzer Prize, and maybe, on some level, Oprah and her people are thinking, "Well, Lord knows they don't give the Pulitzer out to fakes and frauds!"

2. After Tuesday's show aired, I got an e-coupon from Borders touting Middlesex, complete with an image of an effusive blurb...from notorious Oprah-snubber Jonathan Franzen. Youch.