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Posts Tagged ‘Oprah’

I keep forgetting Oprah Winfrey’s talk show is going off the air in late May. It’s kind of hard to grasp the fact that this ubiquitous cultural icon will end her twenty-five year reign as talk show queen. But she’s leaving and, as observed in a recent New  York Times article, her departure will crush the dreams of hundreds of writers, entrepreneurs and those with inspirational stories.

Being on Oprah is a game-changer, no doubt about it. Ask any writer what happens when Oprah recommends a book on her show or in her glossy and immensely popular magazine. Sales shoot through the roof, advances materialize, phones ring off the hook…you get the picture. Even being scolded by Oprah doesn’t hurt a career; James Frey rebounded nicely from the dressing down she administered for writing a less than truthful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, in 2006. Of course, she later apologized on her show. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

It’s not just writers who hit the jackpot after Oprah. Cooks, decorators, financial advisors, life coaches, and doctors have all gone onto bigger things. Catch Oprah’s eye and your options multiply like magic.  Life is good when you’re a FOO (Friend of Oprah).

The Times article quoted one cultural observer as noting that Oprah is to writers and entrepreneurial types as Johnny Carson used to be to performers. That’s true. As a kid and well through my mid-thirties, I aspired to and then pursued a career in music. I wanted to be on Carson. I didn’t care much about performing; my goal was to be invited to sit by Johnny’s desk, where I’d trade witty banter with him and with Ed McMahon or whoever was sitting on the couch with me. Hey, we all have our dreams.

Johnny Carson retired, and I got out of music to settle down with more realistic expectations; that is, until my book was published. “Maybe you can get on Oprah,” suggested my cousin. “Boy, a spot on Oprah’s show would be great, ” commented my close pal. “Are you going to approach Oprah’s people?” asked my writing partner. I thought back to my work on the section in my book on moral authority and celebrity; I’d used Oprah as my principal example. Had I been too harsh on her?  Did I present a fair and balanced explanation of her place in popular culture? Had I given offense? Would she forgive me?

I began to imagine her reading my slender book, lingering over the chapter in which she was featured, smiling at the tactful way I finessed our disagreement about the merits of The Secret, nodding when she came to my approving comments about her generosity. I pictured myself sitting back in the comfortable-looking armchair she uses for guests on her show as she leaned forward, engaging me earnestly on some point I made about certainty. I wanted her approval, I wanted her blessing; I wanted to be on Oprah.

I sent a copy of the book, along with a heartfelt letter, to her producer. I haven’t heard anything back yet. But I’ve got six months. Anyway, there’s always “Dancing with the Stars.”

original image at:
celebrities@gearlock.com

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Sometimes I think I’m prescient (actually, I think I come up with ideas at the same time or slightly ahead of other people who are far more established, possessed of name recognition, book deals, sharp agents and better meta-tags that draw more people to their web sites. Oh well). My latest ah-ha moment took place while looking through my current copy of O, the magazine of all things Oprah. Its chirpy emphasis on self-discovery can get annoying, but where else will you find inspirational stories, customized advice columns, wide-ranging book recommendations and information on where to buy great handbags for under $100?

 

Anyway, it occurred to me that a President who drops book references as casually as Martha Stewart might lean over during lunch and craft your napkin into a centerpiece could be as influential as Oprah when it comes to promoting his favorite reads. Guess it’s obvious, since an article appeared in the paper about the value of a plug from the president-elect; this after the hoopla over three current books on FDR, one of which he may have referenced in a 60 Minutes interview. He didn’t even name the book, yet those three writers have benefited from the attention. Now most non-fiction authors, including yours truly, are trying to figure out how to get on the reading list of our next President. 

 

What better way to try and understand what he’s thinking, or what he’ll be doing, than to find out what he reads? Is Doris Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln the inspiration behind his outreach to Hillary for Secretary of State (and what might inspire Hillary to decline it: It’s A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments?) Does his off-handed mention of a book about FDR’s first hundred days (whichever book it is) suggest how he will govern during economic hard times? Isn’t his own The Audacity of Hope really a blueprint for his political philosophy?

 

 

Of course we can always read books about Obama although they seem to veer between adulatory and vitriolic. I’d rather try and read what he’s reading, along with my usual escapist fare. I have a feeling that, as busy as he is about to be, he could help me keep my bedside bookshelf stocked for the next several years. Meanwhile, I can always pick and choose from among Oprah’s recommendations if I want to know what America’s most influential woman is reading – at least until I get a look at Michelle’s book list.

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