Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk by Robyn Okrant

35-year-old yoga instructor, graduate degree candidate and Chicagoan, Robyn Okrant, sets out to follow all of the instructions that Oprah Winfrey issues on her show, website  and magazine for one year.   Okrant proposes to investigate what living Oprah’s billionaire lifestyle will have on ardent followers with average and middle class incomes. Anything that comes out of Oprah’s mouth with a “do” or  “you must” and any advice articles in the magazine and on the web must be investigated and carried out.
Okrant also diligently watches each episode so that she doesn’t miss a thing that Oprah tells her viewers they should do, and even re-runs don’t let her off the hook.  She watches those too, much to the chagrin of her husband who has to suffer the financial, physical, and emotional effects that this experiment has on their marriage.

There are a rash of books out from bloggers-turned-authors and this latest one had a premise which interested me. I wanted to know how she would manage some of Oprah’s more extravagant requests, but I think that her basic premise is flawed in that, I hope,  most women are more discerning than to run out and bankrupt themselves trying to live above their means in an attempt to do everything that Oprah says to do.  I always view advice coming from any source, including talk shows, as a suggestion – and if it is appropriate and makes sense for my experience then I run with it. Hopefully we don’t just all run out and do everything we hear willy-nilly, but that is what Okrant chooses to do for the year, and oddly she doesn’t seem to credit most of Oprah’s audience with the sense to not do this.

The book was well-written and was mostly easy to read, but after a while Okrant started to wear on me with her constant money woes, which are of course exacerbated by the ridiculousness of what she has set out to do.  At the time of her project she is a yoga instructor who is also pursuing a graduate degree, so there are constant reference to how she doesn’t have the money to buy a new wardrobe, go see the movie, and buy the books that Oprah views as must sees and reads. Okrant substitutes her own recipes for the ones that “Oprah” has suggested with both rare and sometimes extravagantly expensive ingredients.  Her family gamely agrees to replace their beloved traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a meal from “O” Magazine, with results that are less than pleasing to the palate. Quality time with her husband and friends are  sacrificed to the endless research of Oprah’s proclamations and the ways she is trying to make them either fit into her budget, or the way that she knows they will exceed her budget.  She doesn’t seem to be very happy living life Oprah-style, but it is hard to muster up much sympathy when this madness is self-imposed.

Okrant’s documentation of her experiences didn’t go deep enough to satisfy my curiosity, and a topic as broad as this is probably far better followed on a blog where maybe more attention to the details of each undertaking can be explored.  Okrant takes Oprah to task for being inconsistent in her recommendations and having competing interests of materialism and being your best self.  Arguably the tenets that Oprah promotes the most seem to be inherently at odds with each other, but I wonder if a person exists who can be completely consistent while doing a television program 5 days a week for over 20 years. I struggle to figure out what I am about from day-to-day, much less twenty years. The nature of humanity seems to be competing interests, which we then harness for our particular make-up, and Oprah the show is a business.  Implicitly trusting businesses without applying critical think is not a good move, ever.

Okrant also seems to be concerned with issues of privacy and becoming a public person, which seem naive at best when you take to daily blogging about one of the wealthiest and most famous women in the world -one who is known to have a rabid fan base.  I’m not sure what she was thinking, but it is a little hard to believe that she didn’t expect a project of this magnitude to garner any attention. I found it odd that Okrant was criticizing Oprah on her transparency, especially when she mysteriously gets a book deal out of what she is doing, yet she doesn’t go into how that came about or when she started receiving money from it. While she says this was an experiment into the Oprah phenomena, she certainly benefited from it, which is fine, but I think that she should have been more clear about what those benefits were and put them put there while she is talking about how she struggled with her conscience about what she should do or not do.

In the end this was an interesting read for me, but only in spurts. There were charts that detailed all that she had done at the end of each month, what it cost her, and some notes on what she felt about her experience – and those were fascinating and fun to read. However I didn’t feel that motivated to finish and I picked it up and put it down here and there. When my mother, who tivos Oprah, asked if she should read it,  my answer was a shrug. Great topic abut more depth was need to make it a compelling and worthwhile read.

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