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'Something More' Inspires Big Hopes

October 15, 1998|PAUL D. COLFORD | NEWSDAY

Warner Books was ready with a first printing of 750,000 copies. Oprah Winfrey's interview with the author aired Tuesday. The book went on sale Wednesday.

If all goes according to expectations, much of the traffic in bookstores this week and in days to come will be generated by the publication of Sarah Ban Breathnach's "Something More."

It's the follow-up to Ban Breathnach's wildly successful "Simple Abundance," a spiritual guide that presents essays for each day of the year advising women on how to find their "authentic life." Step one: Keep a "daily gratitude journal," writing down five things you can be thankful for that day, no matter how simple they are.

Ban Breathnach's proposal for "Simple Abundance," subtitled "A Daybook of Comfort and Joy," had been rejected by 30 publishers in a two-year period before Warner signed the writer and printed 24,000 copies of her book in fall 1995. Like many self-help titles, "Simple Abundance" was ignored by reviewers at major papers. But the book clicked with women, whose word of mouth drove sales and necessitated additional printings.

Then Winfrey had Ban Breathnach on her daytime TV show in spring 1996 and helped put the book on national bestseller lists, where it remained for more than two years.

"Martha Stewart for the spirit" is how Time characterized Ban Breathnach's approach to fulfillment, which includes such simple suggestions as substituting mineral water ("in a cut-glass goblet") for wine while preparing dinner.

In a subsequent return to Winfrey's program, Ban Breathnach heard the host tell viewers that the book had changed her life.

"Thank you, Miss Sarah, you're one of my favorite girls," Winfrey said at the close of the segment.

There are now 3.7 million copies of "Simple Abundance" in print.

"I have never gotten used to the success of the book, and I'm still bewildered by it," Ban Breathnach said this week.

Ban Breathnach (a pen name, pronounced "Bon Brannock"), 51, grew up on Long Island, the daughter of Pat Crean, who sold construction equipment, and Drusilla, a nurse. She pursued an acting career in London without success before turning to writing. First, she reported on fashion and later produced two books about Victoriana for Simon & Schuster. But she recoiled at the invitation to write yet again about fine lace and such. Instead, she looked inward. The result: "Simple Abundance."

Ban Breathnach's subsequent separation and divorce from her husband of nearly two decades (she has a teenage daughter) inform much of what she has to say in her new book. Among the things for which she is now grateful, she writes, is the small but beautiful house that she bought after her separation:

"While I was stunned to be starting over from scratch (right down to new can openers and potholders), I now realize that my new home is coaxing me back into my own authenticity in a way I could never have imagined."

Speaking Monday from that home, outside Washington, D.C., Ban Breathnach explained that the thrust of "Simple Abundance" was "All you have is all you need," while her new book addresses what for some women, even those with a loving husband and material wealth, is a lingering desire for Something More.

The subtitle of "Something More" is "Excavating Your Authentic Self." Ban Breathnach described a kind of archeological dig that promises to explore "three secret rooms of the soul--self-loathing, betrayal and marital indifference."

Or as she puts it in her book, "When we talk about Something More, it isn't wanting a fancier car, a bigger house or a designer dress. Something More is what we need to fill our spiritual hunger."

In an early review of "Something More," Publishers Weekly said that "the real power of this work . . . lies in the unpretentious sincerity and raw immediacy of Ban Breathnach's many variations on the assertion that 'at the end of the day, or at the end of a life, all we have is ourselves and love.' . . .

"Writing not as a guru but as a friend who has learned to cherish her past, Ban Breathnach will galvanize her wide readership to believe we were all put on Earth for something more than indifferent marriages and discarded dreams."

On the other hand, in this week's issue of People, reviewer Erica Sanders views Ban Breathnach's self-discovery rituals as simplistic and says they "offer little to alleviate a burned-out mother's crunch time. . . . Bottom line: too-facile solutions to very real problems."

Facile or powerful, there's more ahead--beyond the "Simple Abundance" calendars, datebooks, audiotape, "Journal of Gratitude" and travel edition that already have been produced. The Simple Abundance Charitable Trust, founded by the author and supported with some of her earnings, contributes to international charities.

In June, Warner named Ban Breathnach publisher of her own imprint within the company, Simple Abundance Press.

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