Mark Zuckerberg’s bid to become the next Oprah falls flat

After fielding quite a few suggestions from the Facebook community as to what his New Year’s resolution should be, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the beginning of the year that his self-improvement plan would be literary in nature: read a new book every two weeks.

And he didn’t want to read in a vacuum: Zuckerberg set up a page that would serve as a meeting space for a virtual book club. Participants were encouraged to suggest any text that educated on the topics of “new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”—which would seem to preclude nearly all fiction and poetry—and join regular moderated chats.

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The first selection, Moisés Naím’s The End of Power, exploded on the Amazon charts, leading to speculation that publishing had found a new tastemaker in the Oprah mold.

Don’t expect any controversial choices or James Freys, however: though Zuck sang the praises of free speech following the Charlie Hebdo massacre last week, noting that different and sometimes offensive voices “can make the world a better and more interesting place,” Facebook is complicit in lots of state-sanctioned censorship. It’s just good business!

Anyway, the book club got down to business this afternoon, staging an hour-long Q&A with Naím that stayed very polite—trolling was presumably deleted on sight—and often vague. Though thousands of people had liked the original “A Year of Books” announcements, and a quarter million liked the page, just a few dozen were involved in the meeting. The logistics of maintaining an engaging and streamlined discussion in a comment thread also proved tricky.

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Toward the bottom, general illiteracy and complaints dominated.

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Meanwhile, users continued to inundate the page with inappropriate and repeated pitches, including children’s fantasy books and paranormal erotica. Many, of course, were simply self-promotion from self-published authors looking for a giant boost in sales.

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Ah well—it’s early yet. Perhaps Zuckerberg will work some of the kinks out and go on to become a book critic of continuous influence and keen insight. Or this whole thing will just collapse by February. I mean, who actually keeps their New Year’s resolutions? But at least one good idea has come out of the experiment, thank god:

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Photo by thierry ehrmann/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Miles Klee

Miles Klee

Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions,  and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'