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Book Review

‘What I Know for Sure’ by Oprah Winfrey

Chris Craymer

This collection of bits of wisdom begins with Oprah Winfrey recalling a 1998 interview during which the late, great film critic Gene Siskel asked her, “[W]hat do you know for sure?” “Now, this was not my first rodeo,” Oprah writes. “I’ve asked and been asked an awful lot of questions over the years . . . but I have to say, the man managed to stop me in my tracks.”

In the years following that interview, Oprah took up writing monthly columns called “What I Know for Sure” in her eponymous magazine. “But just when I’m ready to raise the white flag and yell, ‘That’s it! I’m tapped out! I’ve got nothing!’ ” Oprah confesses in the book’s intro,
“I’ll find myself walking the dogs or brewing a cup of chai or soaking in the tub, when, out of nowhere, a little moment of crystal clarity will bring me back to something . . . I absolutely know beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

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The 14 years during which this book’s contents were written were eventful ones for “The Queen of All Media.” She closed “The Oprah Winfrey Show,’’ which ran from 1986 to 2011 and remains the highest-rated talk show in history. She launched her OWN television network, became America’s only black billionaire, and a major philanthropist. She received an honorary degree from Harvard University and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

The events and the span of those years lend a sense of evolving consciousness to the dozens of one- to three-page updated essays compiled in this ribbon-markered, clothbound bible of a book.

If you’ve read, heard, watched, prayed to, or memorialized the gospel according to Oprah, there will be much to delight you here, and few surprises.


The miracle and the mundanity of the web that Oprah has woven around her millions of devotees is its consistent, unassailable message: Be your best self; live your best life. Who doesn’t need more encouragement to do that?

A couple of samples:

“I’m working on not letting people with dark energy consume any of my minutes on this earth. . . . What I know for sure is that how you spend your time defines who you are.”

“I know for sure that I don’t want to live a shut-down life — desensitized to feeling and seeing. I want every day to be a fresh start on expanding what is possible.”

For some of us, worshiping at the seductive shrine of Oprah is problematic. If we’re really to be our best selves, live our best lives, shouldn’t we be able to do that without humming Oprah’s pop psychology mantras to ourselves in the mirror each morning? If we’re to reach into ourselves and find the things we authentically know for sure, shouldn’t we do that in self-reflective silence, without Oprah’s familiar voice ringing in our ears?

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As is her wont, Oprah offers guidance on these questions, too.

“As you read about all the lessons I’ve struggled with . . . my hope is that you’ll begin to ask yourself the very same question Gene Siskel asked me all those years ago. I know what you’ll find along the way will be fantastic, because what you’ll find will be yourself.”

What I know for sure: With all Oprah Winfrey has done and been and given to the world, despite the unavoidable truisms scattered among this book’s truths, she and her book deserve the epic readership, rapt attention, and grateful fan mail they’ll surely amass.

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Meredith Maran is the author of many books of nonfiction and the novel “A Theory of Small Earthquakes.” Her next book, “Why We Write About Ourselves,” will be out from Plume in 2015. She’s on Twitter @meredithmaran.
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