As stated in the NY Times Book Review this past Sunday there are many memoirs not worth reading. The reviewer, Neil Genzlinger is pretty harsh as he admits. He starts out ranting about how in this world of over sharing, ordinary lives should not be written about. He has rules for memoirists, namely that you needed be a noteworthy person, having an extremely unusual experience or being a brilliant writer. He gives three as examples of what is not worth reading, and one example that is.
Depending on how you play it when you search under memoirs in Amazon you could get over 160,000 hits. I had known memoir writing was popular, I had no idea it was such a bloated genre.
The three memoirs not worth reading are:
- -“Disaster Preparedness” by Heather Havrilesky is the first picked for being too ordinary. He claims her life was just “too bland”.
- -“The Things That Need Doing” by Sean Manning is chosen because it’s an ordeal to read. Manning writes about every medicine, intubation and diaper change his mother went through, seeming to “ask for congratulations for himself as he takes care of her.”
- -“Twin” by Allen Shawn is a memoir about autism that could have stayed in the slush pile along with many other books on autism Genzlinger says. And this one is particularly bad because the author doesn’t know anything about his sister with autism since she was institutionalized. Yes institutionalized. He visits from time to time and apparently doesn’t have any perspective on why institutionalization is a bad thing to do. There is no real insight into his or his twin’s life.
The one example of a memoir worth reading was “An Exclusive Love” by Johanna Adorjan translated by Anthea Bell. The book is a “beautiful exploration of why her grand parents killed themselves.” What made it worth reading was that she kept herself out of the lime light and brought her grand parents into focus a little bit at a time, so that it was like a discovery.
My about page says I am in the process of making my journals into a public writing. This article made me cringe. It certainly got the critic voices talking in my head It makes me wonder what do I have so special other readers would want to hear about. But that’s for another post.
Do you agree that most memoirs are not worth reading? What for you makes a memoir worth reading?