Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Memoir, Schmemoir

There's been a great deal of talk about the faux memoir scandals of late, some of it both interesting and insightful (like this this, and this).

However, scandals like this obscure what I think is a more significant problem with memoirs right now, which is that everyone seems to think that their life experience necessitates one.

Recent issues in Publishers Weekly have braced me for the gripping stories of....:

Someone who was addicted to drugs!
Someone who gave up sex!
Someone who had too much sex!
Someone who got pregnant when she was 23, and was not quite ready to deal with it!

No. You do not get to write a memoir for doing any of these things unless you are famous, renowned, or widely respected for doing something that is notable. It does not get to be your first book, and it probably shouldn't be your second.

That is just how I feel about it.

Then again, it might be precisely that feeling that tempts people to fabricate wild, implausible stories about waking up on an airplane with a hole in one's cheek, joining the Bloods, or hiding from Hitler in a wolf pack.

Another thought on the fake memoirs of late -- to read about it, you'd think this kind of thing had never happened before. It just doesn't seem like there's been such an outpouring of shock and indignation when this kind of thing has happened in the past with books like Mutant Message Down Under, The Education of Little Tree and Go Ask Alice.

I find the last one particularly disturbing since it is still in print, still credited to "Anonymous," still on school reading lists, and still attracting teen readers, despite its epic crappiness.


Gwen said...

I agree. Something actually interesting should have happened to you for you to get to write a memoir.

I recently read a memoir, and at the beginning the author said, "I like liars. They bother to make life interesting." I kind of liked that. I mean, I doubt everything David Sedaris writes happened EXACTLY like that, but I don't care.

But in general most people are boring and should not write books about themselves. Instead they should go out and try to experience something interesting.

mary_m said...

I just think it's funny that, instead of just calling it fiction (which would be the sensible thing), it has to be sold as a memoir because they sell better.

There's a bit in the Tom Waits Storytellers performance where he talks about how it annoys him when someone leans over and says, "You know, this was based on a true story."

Does it make a difference if it was?

Ang said...

I think Fran Liebowitz once said, "Your life story would not make a good book. Do not even try it." I couldn't agree more.

Unless your life story includes fucking a lot of celebrities. That always makes a good book, to me.

mary_m said...

Ah yes, what would Pamela Des Barres be doing if not for that?

Anonymous said...

But the 23 year old who had a baby has 'renegade insight', it said so in the publisher's comments.

Renegade insight!

mary_m said...

She drinks! And she smokes!

Sally J. said...

OK, first of all...Go Ask Alice was fake? Dude, I blew off frolicking in Ruby Falls to finish that book huddled under a pine tree back in the summer of '79.

Does anyone know why memoirs sell better? Is it a smaller field? Do more people check out memoirs at the library, too?

FYI, I lost an entire evening reading Mischa-the-fake-wolf-girl's publisher's blog. An unbelievable nightmare in 23 chapters, starting with the Prolog. Note to self: Do not ever become an independent publisher. I also love the fact that the LLPOF* was brought down by a genealogist. Do not mess with genealogists, heh!

*Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Sally J. said...

Oh,'s the link to Jane Daniel's blog.

mary_m said...

Wow, I took a quick look at her blog, and think I might need to read it in installments. But I'm impressed by her thorough documentation.

And yes, Go Ask Alice is super fake. Its author, Beatrice Sparks, was a youth counselor who wrote a bunch of supposed "diaries" of teens in crisis situations.

There's one about an unwed mother, and another about an HIV-positive teenager, who, from what I've heard about the book, develops full-blown AIDS within something like 15 minutes of having sex with an infected partner.