(Crown, 524 pages, $30)
“A Kitty Kelley biography of Oprah Winfrey is one of those King Kong vs. Godzilla events in celebrity culture,” said Lauren Collins in The New Yorker. In one corner: a tenacious rumor hound who has made millions by publishing takedowns of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, and Jackie O. In the other: a “ubiquitous billionaire celebrity” who also happens to be “the richest black woman in the world.” By far the biggest revelation in Kelley’s new book is that the queen of the confessional talk show is “a big phony when it comes to her own past,” said Jeremy Olshan in the New York Post. Kelley’s sources claim that Oprah exaggerated her tales of childhood poverty and sexual abuse, then went to great lengths to veil her sexual orientation.
Little, if any of this, is really news, said Helen Kennedy in the New York Daily News. Kelley “appears to have found every disgruntled person that Winfrey ever brushed past” in a hallway, yet most of the book’s juiciest stories have been shared previously by Oprah herself. She told us years ago about the crack she smoked and the baby she bore at 14. Sure, we didn’t know about that early failed affair with John Tesh. But is there anything to be gained from Kelley’s endless, rehashed speculations about whether Winfrey and her longtime best friend, Gayle King, are lovers? Winfrey became the star she is by exposing her flaws and most painful memories, so that others could speak freely about similar hurdles, said Heather Havrilesky in Salon.com. “This is a woman who deserves our prying?”
Kelley’s celebrity hit jobs do have one consistent value, said Louis Bayard in The Washington Post. They make us “feel how hard it is to be these people.” We learn a lot about them, as Kelley dramatizes the hunt for information they’d rather keep private. In fact, there’s “a lot of good stuff in Oprah”—fascinating tidbits that could only have resulted from admirably dogged reporting, said Tina Jordan in Entertainment Weekly. In the end, though, “it’s hard to love a book that makes you feel dirty while you read it.”