This month’s book selections look at advice: one author gives it, and another author takes it to an extreme. Whether you are a fan of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or a devoted Oprah watcher, there is something for you to enjoy this month.
Recently, there has been a spate of books written by authors who conceived of a year-long project (cooking all of the recipes in The Art of French Cooking, living biblically for a year, adopting one green habit a day to lessen your impact on the environment—the list goes on), blogged about it, and then got a book contract. Robyn Okrant, yoga teacher and performer, decided to follow Oprah’s advice as dispensed on her show, in her magazine, and on her website for a year, in order to see if she would really achieve her "best life". The result is Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk, a fascinating book about Oprah’s effect on American culture and the contradictions contained in her advice. Each chapter focuses on one month of Robyn’s journey in Living Oprah; and includes a summary of time and money spent, the words that stuck with her, what Oprah’s advice was and how she followed it. Robyn also includes side forays into Oprah’s rise from poor girl to media mogul, her own battle with scoliosis and the effect Living Oprah had on her usually satisfactory marriage. While the preponderance of charts and summaries of advice given/actions taken are a tad repetitious, this book is an entertaining glimpse into the world according to Oprah. Her advice to live simply clashes with her shilling for her favorite things and her "must-have" wardrobe items, organizational systems and gadgets. As it turns out, slavishly following Oprah’s dictates is an expensive proposition! As a bookseller, I am familiar with Oprah’s effect on the book-buying public. Every time she recommends a title, it immediately hits the bestseller list and flies off the shelves. I imagine that non-publishing companies also see getting Oprah’s seal of approval on their products as a Holy Grail. Love her or hate her, this book will make you think more deeply about television’s effect on you.
The advice-giving author is a comedian and actress who lives locally with her husband and four step-children. What Would Susie Say?: Bullsh*t Wisdom about Love, Life and Comedy is Susie Essman’s very funny book on her long path to success in stand-up comedy, fame as a television actress and happiness in her recent marriage to a denizen of the Albany area. Before reading her book, I had no idea who Susie Essman was; the lack of television in my life leaves a wide swath of ignorance in my pop culture knowledge. After reading it, I want to watch all the episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" so I can see her comedic genius in the flesh instead of on the page. Her early tales of bonding in comedy clubs with the other struggling artists in her cohort—Joy Behar, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Larry David—are fascinating, (and that Larry David friendship really worked out for her later on). Her advice and musings on dogs, men, menopause and being a step-mother are hilarious, and her love for her husband, step-children and family shine through on every page. If vulgarity offends you, don’t bother reading this book, but if you want a story of a woman who worked her butt off to achieve success and happiness on her own terms, this is for you. Be ready to laugh!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.