"Living Oprah"

Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant

I never would have thought I’d be found reading a book with Oprah’s name in the title. I tend to avoid even the Oprah book club selections, not because I have anything personally against her, but because it doesn't seem right that anyone should have as much influence over people’s lives as she has now. I don’t think we should give that much control to anybody so I’ve shied away from getting too involved. Also, like a lot of other people, book hype pushes me away from a book rather than toward it and let’s face it, any book with her name in the title is going to get hype. However, I have a friend whose reading tastes are very similar to mine and she thought I’d enjoy it as a light read, so I agreed to try it.

The author decided that for a period of one year, Jan 1-Dec 31, she would watch the Oprah show daily and follow every suggestion Oprah gave. It was a sort of sociological experiment to see why people are so devoted to the megastar/media mogul. She bought the clothes Oprah said everyone “must” have, used her decorating ideas, exercised and ate as Oprah said she should (signing a contract along with millions of other followers to be her “best self”) and conducted relationships with her friends and her husband according to Oprah’s suggestions. She tried the recipes and products the show promoted and followed her ideas for keeping a clean house (aware of the irony that Oprah probably hasn’t done her own housework in a long time). I was exhausted at the end of her year and I just read about it; I can only imagine how she felt.

I was afraid when I began the book that it would be a gushing testimonial to how amazing and wonderful Oprah is, but it wasn’t that at all. The author was honest about what worked and what didn’t.  Some of her experiments changed her life for the good, others not so much. At times the project put a strain on her marriage and on their finances but on the whole her husband supported her. What I found interesting was that when the year was over and Jan 1 rolled around again, she had difficulty stopping. She had let Oprah do so much of her thinking for her and make so many of her decisions that it was hard to cut the cord and be her own person again. That, to me, was rather alarming and just increased my uneasiness about the whole Oprah-mania thing.   

All in all it was an interesting experiment to read about. The author writes well and is able to keep the reader interested from start to finish. Any frustration I felt was more with Oprah than with the author’s experience. It surprises me that Oprah, who I believe is a very intelligent woman, still considers herself a credible source of wisdom and advice for the ordinary American woman who struggles to make ends meet while holding down a job, raising kids, keeping a marriage healthy and a house clean and organized. Maybe she did begin to see the growing gulf that separated her from other women and maybe that’s partly why she stopped doing the show, who knows?

I want to be clear that though I'm not an Oprah fan, I'm also not an Oprah-basher. She built a fabulous life and career for herself from very humble beginnings and I admire that. Also her philanthropy is well known and commendable; there's no question she has done a lot of good. Whether you’re a fan or not, this book makes for interesting reading so I do recommend it.


Anonymous said...

Same as you, I was never a real fan of Oprah and certainly never read her book club suggestions (I actually wrote a post ages ago about how her book club suggestions were not so good for publishing and readers - it was quite surprising because you assume book sales are 'all good'!).

Anyway, I also read this book and found it quite interesting. It was refreshing that it highlighted the good and the bad. I read it quite some time ago and I think the one message that stays with me is that it was quite expensive to live like Oprah!

Ordinary Reader said...

booksaremyfavouriteandbest- That's what I came away with too. There's an assumption of a certain income bracket in all her "must haves". I find the whole thing strange - so many people hanging on her every word and following all her suggestions even while she talks about thinking for yourself and being your own woman. I wonder what future sociologists and philosophers will make of it.

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