My life is complete chaos. As I write this, I sit on the floor of my near-empty apartment, surrounded by fast food packaging while stealing internet from our neighbor. The past week has been exhausting, both emotionally and physically, as dealing with multiple family members, painting a house top-to-bottom, and the death of a grandparent takes its toll.
Which is why this felt like an appropriate time during the Summer of Oprah to check out Oprah’s own Words That Matter, a self-declared “little book of life lessons.” Words That Matter is a compilation of quotes, ideas, and passages from some of the world’s best and brightest people, all which appeared in the pages of O magazine sometime during its 10-year history. This is the stuff you find cross-stitched on a pillow or hanging over the stove at your grandmother’s house. The book is meant to inspire, provoke, and celebrate O, Oprah, and life itself.
Why the hell is this book on the summer reading list?
There’s no escapist element, no beach-read ready attitude about Words That Matter. It’s schmaltzy, over-the-top, and is best read in one’s bathroom. It’s the kind of read that tells me to take my move in stride, that purchasing that ill-fated Ikea wardrobe was an important life lesson, that the scuff marks on the walls from fitting furniture down stairwells it was never meant to fit around is the stuff memories are made from, that I should eat less fast food, laugh more, and every so often stop to realize how precious life is.
I’m not against magazine compilations. It can be a great way to anthologize popular articles, celebrate a magazine’s anniversary, and create a memento for long-time fans. This book is true to Oprah and will be a keepsake for her many fans and magazine subscribers. It’s beautiful and well done. But blatant self-promotion on a reading list is problematic. Would Stephen King ever include his own book when he compiles his summer reading list for Entertainment Weekly? I hope not. Oprah needs to sell her book, but reading lists like this lose their authenticity when tinged with self-promotion. Reading lists are inherently self-promotion (valuable content can convert readers in brand converts), but I prefer it when it’s masked by pseudo-intellectual choices, breezy beach reads, and, god forbid, heavy historical fiction. I’m not ready for my reading lists to be infiltrated by inspirational garbage. I’m too young and too jaded.
This is the type of book you leave in bathrooms for guests to flip through while on the can. My new house has two bathrooms, but that kind of lifestyle can wait until I reach Oprah’s target demographic.
Guess what my mom is getting for her birthday.
Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist