It's sure to be one of the most talked-about books this month, but will you really learn anything new from reading "Oprah: A Biography," Kitty Kelley's new unauthorized biography of television megastar Oprah Winfrey, due in bookstores tomorrow? Some readers who've seen leaked excerpts suggest that the answer is no.
Maslin adds, "Some of the best-known parts of [Oprah's] story, like the dieting, have literally been discussed ad nauseam. And why would lengthy rehashes of well-known embarrassments (e.g., the James Frey/'A Million Little Pieces' flap) be interesting? Ms. Kelley simply replays the televised version. She has nothing new to add to these stories."
(Although the timing for the book is excellent – it comes out just as Winfrey is making headlines with the announcement that she will be starting her own cable network.)
To be sure, it seems that Kelley – who is famed for her earlier tell-all celebrity biographies, all unauthorized, including those of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, and the Bush family – has tackled all of the most speculated-about areas in Winfrey's life (including her sexuality, her relationships with Stedman Graham and Gayle King, the child she gave birth to at the age of 15, her accounts of childhood sexual abuse) but nothing that has emerged yet indicates that Kelley is bringing any surprising new information to light.
She does dish on Winfrey's relationship with her mother and garners quotes (and photos) from the man who raised Winfrey as his daughter (although he says he is not her biological father). Kelley claims she knows who Winfrey's real dad is but she's not telling.
And, of course, there are the accounts of occasional bad behavior and divaesque snits that are (sadly) almost to be expected from a celebrity bio.
More interesting to media watchers may be Kelley's own claims that Winfrey pals like Larry King, Barbara Walters, and Charlie Rose will not give her airtime to discuss her book. (Not that Kelley won't get plenty of coverage – she will be on both the "Today Show" and Bill O'Reilly's show later this week.)
Kelley herself seems to be eager to stress the amount of research – she says she spent four years, conducted 850 interviews, and read through more than 2,700 interviews done by Winfrey – that went into the book. She also says that she finished her project full of respect for her subject, who rose from difficult beginnings to become one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the United States.
By Kelley's own account, "Oprah: A Biography" simply offers its readers a chance to get closer to the media icon. "It's like watching high-definition TV," she told USA Today. "It's more detailed. You're going to see her better."
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.