The most valuable memoirs are voyages of discovery, made up of a narrative that develops organically, moving from events to revelation. They surprise and entertain the reader. And, along the way, they are sprinkled with a few life lessons – learned by the writer and shared with readers.
In my view, a memoir is worth reading to the degree that it takes the reader for an entertaining and instructive ride. It should not be is a screed, an apology, or a justification for a life. It is neither useful nor appropriate to use a memoir as a vehicle for getting back at an abusive father or a boss who hated for no good reason. And it is not a vehicle for a politician to explain why an election was lost or to justify old policies or actions.
I acknowledge that many published memoirs do not adhere to this approach, but if I were a publisher I would print them as rants rather than memoirs.
My ideas about memoir may strike readers as idiosyncratic and narrow, but there they are. Some readers approached me when I had my previous web site in the hopes that I would review or promote their memoirs, but that was never my intention. This is the only page on the web site that looks at memoirs with an agenda. To me, the main difference between them and fake memoirs is that their main aim is to vindicate, not to deceive.
All links to this topic are included in the Memoir category list. See right sidebar.
Andrew Cuomo got $738,000 for his memoir — and it sold only 3,200 copies
Political memoirs are rarely impressive literary works. There are better reasons to write a memoir than to create a salable commodity. Most of those reasons are related to the self-knowledge available to the author through the act of writing.
A memoir of misanthropy: What happens when a man attempts to live like other animals?
If you write about yourself, however unconventionally, however originally, you should be ready for readers (and reviewers) whose whole life is based on agendas unlike yours and who are upset that you have expressed yourself. But don’t forget: they would not have had a soap box to climb on unless you had written your book in the first place.
Is the greatest collection of slave narratives tainted by racism?
Writers and tellers of narratives frequently have agendas, some of them hidden even from themselves. Reading about the past, it helps to have an idea of what motivated the telling or the reporting.
Brian Burke memoir A tumultuous life set to ruffle WA politics
Far from recalling the good with the bad, many political memoirs simply try to justify the past. This one, by a disgraced Australian, claims it refuses to justify anything. It is the result of an attempt to be “absolutely truthful” – even if the claim belies what we know about the brain and our ability to recall the events of the past.
In ‘Thanks for the money,’ comedian Joel McHale lampoons celebrity memoirs
It shouldn’t have to take a comedian to lampoon some so-called memoirs. Many such books written by politicians or entertainers turn out to be simply self-justifying or self-promotional fluff.
J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly elegy: Right-wing propaganda in the guise of personal memoir
Every memoir has a point of view. Sometimes that perspective gets dangerously close to propaganda. Here is a good example: a left-wing review of a right-wing book.
Celebrity memoirs are awful. Here are 4 ways to fix them
The concept of celebrity memoir is almost an oxymoron. It’s often not so much the truth of what celebrities remember as what they can say to increase their celebrity. This essay acts as if the famous are actually looking for a way to express truths.
From ‘American hustle’ to ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ Why is Hollywood hooked on embellishing the truth?
When you go to the movies, don’t expect to see history. Sometimes when you come away from watching a film when you know the basis of the plot, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering how much of life itself is based on a true story.
The Briefing by Sean Spicer, review: a memoir that reeks of desperation
Why Sean Spicer is still loyal to Donald Trump
You can expect so-called political memoirs to be deficient in the soul-searching department. Here are two reviewers who were not disappointed when they found this book disappointing.