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

Living Oprah, by Robin 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 now 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.

As an Amazon Associate, I’ll make a tiny profit if you click on the book cover or link, and buy this book or another through one of my links.

Book Information: Living Oprah, by Robyn Okrant
Publisher, Publication Date & Other Info: Center Street – January 4, 2010 – Hardcover – 272 pages
Author Website & Other Resources & Links: Living Oprah Website
Source: Passed on to me from a friend

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  1. The premise sounds like the one AJ Jacobs adopted when he decided to “live biblically” for an entire year. I found that book to be very entertaining, but I am not sure I would appreciate Okrant enough to read this book. The money woes sound annoying–wouldn’t you anticipate that living like Oprah would be expensive??

  2. I liked your review. This idea sounds interesting and it seems like it could have been better. Maybe the author went overboard with the Oprah advice all at once. I bet even Oprah doesn’t do/read/see/use/eat all the stuff she mentions in her magazines and show. I bet she could have still had the Oprah effect by picking and choosing the things that would have really improved her life. I guess that wasn’t the point of the book though. Bummer.

  3. I don’t think I would have persevered with this book to the end. It annoys me when people do silly things that they can’t afford for no particular reason. And I’m not even a big Oprah fan.

  4. Yeah this never sounded like anything I could get through. I do find it interesting that she at least mentioned she felt some of Oprah’s goals are at odds…I think sometimes we think we can have it all, and quite truthfully, we can’t.

  5. You know, I have never watched an entire episode of Oprah. I’ve seen snippets here and there (like the interview she did with Tommy Hilfiger to dispell the myth that Tommy hates African-Americans – and that was because I did a job for Tommy Hilfiger and they were very sensitive about that rumour) but that’s it.

  6. I actually followed this woman’s blog for the year she was “living Oprah” and found it pretty interesting. I don’t see any need to read the book though having read her blog postings. I agree with you that people who watch Oprah’s show (and I am one of them) are smart enough to not try and take every bit of advice she gives. Her show appeals to millions of people who will take different things from the advice that is doled out on her show. I can’t imagine trying to buy all the stuff that Oprah recommends either but I sure wouldn’t turn it down if someone else wanted to buy it for me! ha

  7. Sounds like this lady jumped on the bandwagon when she saw the success of Julie Powell. I guess I automatically feel a little snarky over the premise. This is obviously a publicity stunt to get herself a book or movie deal, so (as you pointed out) it is a bit hypocritical to slam Oprah for talking about of both sides of her mouth.

  8. Ha, I give you props for making it through this. My boyfriend looked at the ads for it on the subway and said, “Dear God, I will never touch that book.” And I had to agree with him.

  9. It also seems a little weird that a yoga instructor would be so focused on consumerism and doing and buying what others recommend. My yoga instructors are always talking about not comparing yourself to others and finding balance.

  10. I was so fascinated by this book because a. I love Oprah (both the show and the magazine) and b. I subscribe to probably 8 other magazine as well but the thought of just doing what Oprah says for a year at the detriment to everything else I think Oprah would not agree with – certainly not her beloved Suze Orman! Great review! That advice in those things is to be used when it fits you, right? If you like a recipe tear out if it sounds gross you don’t have to eat just because Oprah says to! Ok I think I’ve said my piece now. Basically I really agreed with your review!

  11. Thanks for saving me the bother of reading this one. I thought it sounded pretty unrealistic. It makes the whole cooking your way thru Julia Child’s cookbook sound like child’s play.

  12. I’m getting sort of bored of blogs turned into books, honestly. Cake Wrecks, okay, but Julie Powell and all the rest of them…*yawn*. I’m a fan of participatory journalism when someone like A.J. Jacobs does it, but seriously, I’m done with the ‘do this for a year’ blog turning into a book.