Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I Blame America

For yet another made-up memoir. As a culture we've become convinced that only real stories are true stories, or do I have that the wrong way around?

Tangentially, does anyone else think it's hilarious that the book tour for an addiction memoir is sponsored by Starbucks?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I blame America - I blame the American people for their complete loss of virtue and sense of personal responsibility.

Anonymous said...

From the Times piece: “It opened my mind to the fact that not everybody is as they are portrayed on the news,” she said. “Everything’s not that black and white or gray or brown.”

Indeed! I think we’re all sick of gray and brown portrayals of complicated events.

Also I loved the idea of her chatting up the Black Panthers at Starbucks. Another grande soy carmel macchiato latte, Huey?

Kelly said...

I find it totally hilarious that "Beautiful Boy" is sold at Starbucks. As a Starbucks addict myself (okay, go ahead and throw stones, but remember, I live in Iowa. Starbucks IS the best coffee here), I laugh every time I see that jumping boy on the cover.

Re: the memoir issue. I have a simple solution: Let's just call autobiographical literature what it's always been: fiction. It's easy. There's no such thing as "truth," at least as Americans would describe "truth," in autobiography.

Kelly said...

(My dissertation was on autobiographical literature written by 18th century Russian aristocrats in French. No truth there either.)

Anonymous said...

I love the cheerful reader comment that now she can write a true story about being ratted out by her sister.

Roger Sutton said...

oh yeah, Anon., there is definitely a story there. I hope we hear from the sister soon.

Susan T. said...

In lieu of this morning's news, take a look at the profile of Seltzer/Jones in last Thursday's Home section of the Times. There you will read such gems as

"The house smelled of black-eyed peas, which were stewing with pork neck bones — a dish from the repertory of her foster mother, known as “Big Mom,” whose shoe box of recipes she inherited."

Ruth said...

I'm sure there's already been commentary on this elsewhere, but it's interesting that both stories involve the appropriation of another racial/ethnic background... and that in both cases this seems related, somehow, to the romanticization of suffering. (Along with a whole slew of other prejudiced assumptions.)

Maybe it's true that we'd like a dose of the miraculous to help digest stories of horror and violence. But maybe we also have a fundamental wish to misunderstand horror and violence in the first place...

Ruth

Anonymous said...

We have a wish for the supposedly ennobling effects of suffering and injustice, and perhaps also for the romance of confession. All this without having to go through the actual trials, of course!

Anonymous said...

I am addicted to books and I don't care where I get my fix! I wish more parents were addicted to books and what a better America for our children we would have!

A.D.

Anonymous said...

In reference to the book Beautiful Boy, it seems a great fit to me to have a book about drug addiction become very present and out there in the world for all to see.
As someone who went looking for factual and/or memoir material for this author to reference during his family's time of need, I can honestly say that there is very little out there that was helpful to him.
My hope is that his book, and that of his son, offer some relief and hope for those many others in the same, or similar predicaments.

Anonymous said...

Hurrah for Kelly's "simple solution." OF COURSE autobiography is fiction! Why hasn't this been known all along?

gail said...

Doesn't conventional wisdom state that it's easier to sell publishers on memoir than it is on fiction? When the authors are caught, they try to put as good and profound a spin on the situation as they can, but with some of them I have to wonder if they weren't just trying to use the system to get published any way they could. Some of these people may not be identifying with other groups, may not be romanticizing anything. They're just trying to get away with something.

Anonymous said...

Have you noticed how many more comments posts get when they allow for the expression of outrage and indignation?

Christina said...

I've been having a related argument with my roommates lately, about truth and fact. I don't think that something needs to be "factual" to be True, that something need not be Non-Fiction to be True. They would disagree-- or at least, they don't understand.

Fiction, at least in my neck of the University Woods, is for those who don't want to read about REAL things, for the dreamers. Everyone else reads history, or biographies, or autobiographies, economics, memoirs, etc, as if this adds a level of true gravity and seriousness to their perspective.

Jeannine said...

People tell and believe all kinds of stories for all kinds of reasons, and we always have to bring forward our best judgment. The first issue of Notes from the Hornbook refers to Maurice Sendak's tale of a woman who read Where the Wild Things Are over and over to a screaming child, and when asked why, said the book won the Caldecott. I believe Sendak said that, but, with no disrespect to the genius, I don't believe that happened, at least not quite in that way. It makes a great story, and I'd retell it myself, but only with raised eyebrows.

Roger Sutton said...

People certainly do polish their best anecdotes--it's really fun to read Marilyn Horne's and Beverly Sills' respective accounts of their mutual appearance at La Scala!

Jennie said...

Here's another one! (It's Kathy O'Beirne's 2005 memoir, Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalene Laundries)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?xml=/portal/2008/03/05/ftmag105.xml