Neal Genzlinger, writing in the New York Times on Friday, lamented the explosion of memoirs. Perhaps its purely a professional lament, but what he has to say is worth considering.
In the process of reviewing 4 new memoirs (3 of which he says should never have been written), Genzlinger complains that the plethora of new memoirs tends to crowd out those with a truly compelling story, not to mention those exemplary writers who can take the mundane and turn it into a singular snapshot of a historical moment.
Here’s a passage from his piece:
“Sure, the resulting list has authors who would be memoir-eligible under the old rules. But they are lost in a sea of people you’ve never heard of, writing uninterestingly about the unexceptional, apparently not realizing how commonplace their little wrinkle is or how many other people have already written about it. Memoirs have been disgorged by virtually everyone who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an underprivileged child or been an underprivileged child. By anyone who was raised in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, not to mention the ’50s, ’40s or ’30s. Owned a dog. Run a marathon. Found religion. Held a job.”
Now, you might think that Genzlinger is being an elitist … that a literary world where “Every Man a King” becomes “Every Breathing Soul an Author” is a good thing.
But I tend to side with him (and yes, that may also be a professional lament).
It is possible today for almost anyone (anyone with the financial means, anyway) to “write” a book. There is no end to the number of “publishers” willing to take your money and promise you the moon.
And likewise, there’s no doubt that most of us have told a story and had a listener say “You should write a book!”
Countless bloggers have seen their work, if sufficiently unified, be turned into a book, a play, a movie, or a television series.
But for a reviewer (or a bookseller or a reader), wading through the output (sorry to say it that way) becomes a grinding game of blind man’s buff.
I offer no solutions. Perhaps the uber-democracy of self-publishing and the willingness of publishers to gamble on true tales in the hopes of landing their book author on Oprah is a sign of progress.
What do you think?
So here’s a bonus … a memoir that I loved, that Genzlinger probably wouldn’t have, that I always keep in stock, and about which someone surely must have said “You should write a book!”
Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
HarperCollins (2008) $13.99 PB
Phoebe Damrosch’s very personal account of moving up in the restaurant world by taking a job at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in Manhattan. It is delightful, and inspired my dream of taking a dozen of my patrons on a New York trip for dinner there and a Broadway play. Anyone interested?
* Sincere apologies to the author of the book whose cover we used to illustrate Genzlinger’s point. Neither he nor I intend to cast aspersions on the value or quality of that work. It does, however, scream out the reviewer’s main thesis. Hey, at least I included a sales link. Anybody else do that for you today?