When I worked at Borders, I came to hate Oprah Winfrey and NPR. The reason for this was simple: Both suggested books all the time—and every time a title tumbled from the lips of Oprah or Ira Glass, our phones would start ringing like a celebrity disaster telethon. "Do you have this book?" the voices would ask, and then thoughtfully add, "I need this book." We would always have two or three copies on hand—NPR and Oprah never recommend bestsellers, they create bestsellers—and we'd put those on hold for the people who had the presence of mind to call the minute that Terry Gross told them to.
The calls would continue for hours—sometimes, thanks to word of mouth, days or weeks—after the books were gone. The customers would become irate and inconsolable: "How could you be out of this book? This is a very important book!" Unofficially, we in the staff called them lemming books because the need for them seemed to be primal, unexplainable, and great hordes of people would do anything for them. Sometimes lemming books are important, but usually they're junk, and I'd guess that only about 30 percent of them are actually read.
The very latest lemming book is thanks to Oprah, and it's quite possibly the most shameful in the long history of lemming books. It's a self-help book called The Secret, and there's absolutely nothing of worth in it. In fact, it's that rarest of breeds: a potentially harmful book. It's written by Rhonda Byrne with the assistance of a supergroup of 24 self-help authors, including luminaries such as Jack Canfield, of the execrable Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and "Dr." John Gray, of the excrementious Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus series.*
The Secret is being marketed the way The Da Vinci Code was: All the world's best thinkers have been privy to a secret that has never before been revealed... until now. Now, free of charge, I will reveal what The Secret is: It's nothing more than the Power of Positive Thinking taken to an absurd extreme. Byrne writes that Positive Thinking works for weight loss: "Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight... think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight." And David Schirmer, one of The Secret's self-help gurus, claims that Positive Thinking works for life's more simple pleasures: "I would visualize a parking space exactly where I wanted it, and 95 percent of the time it would be there for me and I would just pull straight in."
They call this the Law of Attraction, under the pretense that the universe wants to shower you with abundance and beauty. Again, Byrne: "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts." The Secret protects you from cancer and other diseases: "You are also inviting illness if you are listening to people talking about their illness... If you really want to help that person, change the conversation to good things, if you can, or be on your way." It will even help out that pesky Peak Oil problem: "Belize has become an oil-producing country because an extraordinary team of people believed in the unlimited power of the mind."
A reasonable person might ask: What about starving children in Somalia and elsewhere? What about genocide? What about people who hate America precisely because of its ridiculous abundance and smugly stupid material-spiritualism? The Secret has the answer for that, too: "When I discovered The Secret I made a decision that I would not watch the news or read newspapers anymore, because it did not make me feel good."
I repeat: This is an Oprah-endorsed bestseller.
And do you know to whom The Secret is dedicated? That's right: You.** And can there be any wonder why? "The Earth turns on its orbit for You... Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience is all there, for You... You are the master of the Universe... You are the perfection of Life... the time to embrace your magnificence is now."
And also: You are a lemming, and if You follow the directions in this book, You will be an Asshole of the Highest Order. This is the closest I've ever come to calling for a good old-fashioned book burning, and I've read Dianetics and the Bible and the complete works of Ayn Rand. Watch the face of the bookseller who sells You this book. You will see contempt. It is intended just for You.
* The latest in this series, The Mars & Venus Diet & Exercise Solution, is in stores now!
** Presumably the same You who was recently named Time magazine's Person of the Year ostensibly because, under the guise of Freedom of Expression, You were duped into creating free content for multibillion-dollar media companies' websites.