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All of My Life is a Memoir

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post #80
bio: vera
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1/11/2006
16:34

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Hello, hello! We have been invaded with the Age of Memoir, as a writing genre. Used to be memoirs were Anais Nin's journals, Winston Churchill's sermons and Nancy on how she loved Ronnie. Only famous people and celebrities put out their memoirs for publication. (There is a difference between the two, as serial killers are not exactly "celebrated" but are famously sensationalized, which is truly disgusting). And then, ghostwriters were behind the scenes, earning income for their college debt and paying rent on their atelier in Manhattan.

Certainly, any literate person should profess a profound ambivalence towards the next memoir-by-proxy, a la Diana, Marilyn, or JFK. How many libraries are more than fifty percent Diana and JFK? What do we see as we walk into Barnes & Noble? The newest book on Hitler, the man (vomit). The latest collection of photos containing one or more Beetles. Doesn't the publishing industry understand how ill, ingrown and repetitive it's becoming?

Consider the current proliferation of memoirs. Although Augusten Burroughs is a potentially excellent exception versus other mind-numbing twaddle in the memoir fad, I am not terribly interested in the potty-training scars of the girl next door. I don't at all care that a certain lesbian was scarred when her step-father imposed his gaze upon her exposed breast—that's just NOT enough. Someone out there, a woman is all I remember, writes in her memoir about her "exceptional" childhood on a farm, where how the animals were treated, and the way her mother yelled obscenities, is the highest scandal the story can hope to obtain. The best memoir I've read in the last five years is Blackbird, by Jennifer Lauck. Lauck has real, gut-wrenching talent, and if you put her book down, it's only because you'll be fired from your job if you don't.

If the memoir doesn't contain rape, murder, incest, extreme religious fanaticism including a wide range of -cides, concentration camp survival, violence, abnormal sex or self-mutilation; frankly, writers, the general public may never notice you published. Writing memoirs about growing up white in the country, or the only girl in first grade, or your four marriages to the same woman, or your make-out sessions with Prince, do not qualify as the sensationalism readers crave.

A word about drinking is necessary. I wouldn't read another "I was the worst drunk ever" memoir unless it contained some of the above items I mentioned, and then only if graphics are included. Burroughs and Frey have giddily topped the bell curve in so-drunk memoirs, and everything else will just be one more drunken memoir. This is not to say that if you drink excessively (according to your college's standards), and write or paint masterpieces, in which talents alcohol was your muse, twin, and soulmate--and are or were a Witness to the Fire--that your memoir won't be a welcome diversion, one of those rare finds where genius is hand-in-hand with base need for alcohol.

I consider myself a common and recurring memoirist, as any blogger, journal junkie or corner scribbler should. Nearly every day I tell my story on the page. Yet, I'd never suppose that anyone wants to hear about my long obsession with an unsuitably married man. Or, my fixation on the nastiness of the corporate healthcare world. Or, those times as a child when my daddy was super mean to me. (My mother was a screamer! and now I'm a really LOUD person.) Writing life as we experience it is interesting in the moment, and frequently, if we post online, our story boosts community spirit (yah). Sharing words and ideas, commentary on movies, books and music, throwing in the odd original freak-show experience or I-thought-I'd-die train ride, then shooting our hopes and dreams into cyberspace to put the cherry on top, are the real juices of memoir. Just don't be crass enough to think Random House wants to pay you for it.

Next time, I may talk about celebrities who write children's books. Celebrities who themselves never had a childhood because they were awfully busy as celebrities.



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