Too Many Memoirs? Another Cranky Attack
January 31, 2011 § 21 Comments
Neil Genzlinger, staff editor at The New York Times, offered up a particularly cranky complaint about ‘too many memoirs’ in the Book Review yesterday. I find it fascinating that Genzlinger and others still get so incensed about the presence of memoirs — people write them, you can read them, or you can choose not to. But certain folks feel offended, violated, it seems, by the mere existence of these books, and I’m tempted to get my psychology degree just to learn what is going on inside their brains.
Genzlinger complains, for instance:
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 …
No one wants to relive your misery. Say you get stuck under a rock and have to cut off your own arm to escape. If, as you’re using your remaining hand to write a memoir about the experience, your only purpose in doing so is to make readers feel the blade and scream in pain, you should stop. You’re a sadist, not a memoirist; you merely want to make readers suffer as you suffered, not entertain or enlighten them.
The problem with Genzlinger’s argument, and most similar anti-memoir attacks, is that he is not arguing against the writing of memoir, he is arguing against badly-written memoirs. In his essay, he ‘reviews’ three recent memoirs that he finds particularly egregious, to prove his point.
Well, exactly. If you write badly, shallowly, without discovery into your life because you have had “cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight … taught an underprivileged child, adopted an underprivileged child or been an underprivileged child” then you will have written badly, and the book will be a bad book. That doesn’t indict an entire genre.
Oh well. New York has been in a cold snap lately. All this recent hot air might serve a purpose.