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Book Review: 'Oprah Winfrey: The Real Story'

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According to this book, her aunt named her Orpah (a biblical character), but it was misspelled on the birth registry; she won Miss Black Nashville thanks to a scoring error; her longtime boyfriend, whom Mair believes she’ll never marry, was partners with a right-wing, buppie radio host; and her bra size has gone from a 44 DD to a 36 C since she’s lost weight. If these are the kinds of twists of fate that turn you on, then by all means read it. At least the first two chapters (on Oprah’s early life and ancestry), while hardly revelatory, contain the sort of sordid stuff that often finds voice on her talk show — mentions of incestuous experiences, a teenage pregnancy, and forebears who killed feuding rivals. But the narrative often derails into a crude analysis of the talk-show biz — among other weird things. Like, does Mair really need to devote six pages to a Winfrey show on autoerotic asphyxia, and the man who died allegedly after viewing it? Or to relate the backgrounds of other talk-show hosts (but not Oprah’s greatest threat, Ricki Lake)? Or to include a chapter called ”Michael, Michael, Michael,” with nothing new on Mr. Jackson’s mess? Since he offers little new material, and had no access to his subject, the answer, sadly, is yes. C-