Just as the queen of daytime network TV is winding down her 25-year reign, an odd publishing trend is heating up: a slew of memoirs by Oprah-anointed “authorities” confessing that they weren’t quite as advertised or couldn’t fix their own screwed-up lives. Last week, Winfrey devoted not one but two shows to the plight of Iyanla Vanzant, a “spiritual life counsellor” and Oprah Winfrey Show regular in the late 1990s. The Mighty O loved Vanzant’s sassy life truths; she was even grooming the self-proclaimed “Yorùbá priestess” for her own program. Then, in what appears an act of cosmic suicide, Vanzant signed with Barbara Walters’ production company and fell out with Winfrey.
After one season, Vanzant’s show was axed and her life imploded: her marriage broke up; she squandered millions; she lost her house and filed for bankruptcy. Now, harnessing the moxy that fuelled her rise as a self-help guru, Vanzant is flogging a new memoir: Peace From Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through.
Also offering tips on finding inner peace—again—is Sarah Ban Breathnach, who catapulted to fame in 1996 after Winfrey named Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy her favourite book of the year. Ban Breathnach’s bite-sized nuggets extolling non-material pleasures like smelling fresh laundry sold millions of copies. In her new memoir, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity, the author reveals she ditched her “all you have is all you need” bromides and frittered everything away living a life that involved little sheet-sniffing: she snapped up posh New York real estate and Sir Isaac Newton’s “chapel” in England, and hired nine assistants on either side of the Atlantic. Divorced from husband No. 3, a cad who showed undue fondness for her wealth, Ban Breathnach is now left with her elderly cat, big debts and the prospect of yet another New York Times bestseller.
Financial loss also animates Geneen Roth’s new Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money. Roth is well known to Winfrey’s audience for her insights into overcoming “emotional eating”—using food to fill an inner void—a topic dear to the talk-show titan’s heart. Now Geneen shares another “aha moment,” to use Winfrey’s phrase: she used money the same way she used to use food, a revelation she came to after losing everything investing with Bernie Madoff. It’s hard to believe the woman whom Winfrey introduced to her audience as “the miracle you’ve been waiting for” would not have the brains to see the foolishness of considering spending $1,000 she doesn’t have on a pair of glasses she doesn’t need, as she admits in her new book.
But the greatest “Do as I say, not as I do” disconnect will arrive in May with the publication of Sharyn Wolf’s riveting Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor’s Divorce. Wolf appeared eight times on Oprah offering advice on attracting the right mate and keeping love alive. Yet Wolf’s recounting of her own relationships makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seem like a romp. One with an alcoholic was so volatile she slept with her car keys in case she had to leave quickly. She was married and divorced four times (twice to the same man). When she told viewers ‘I’m in a long, happy marriage,’ it was with a man who made her miserable; they had sex three times in 13 years.
Wolf weaves disturbing disclosures about early childhood sexual abuse with boyfriend-from-hell stories that are alternately hilarious and horrifying. One, a steroid-addicted weightlifter, would stare at his gonads in the mirror and ask, “They haven’t shrunk that much, have they?”; another threw a big can of V8 juice at her head. Suddenly Wolf’s advice on a show promoting her book How to Stay Lovers for Life: Discover a Marriage Counselor’s Tricks of the Trade takes on ominous new light: “If you fall out of love don’t panic,” she said. “You have to be as comfortable with hate and disgust as love.”
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