An extended post scriptum to the previous piece, on “misery memoirs”: I found an amusing reference to “oh so poor I was” books in William Sutcliffe’s review of “Foreskin’s Lament: A memoir”, By Shalom Auslander. Here is a short extract:
“Memoirs used to be confined to dusty corners at the back of bookshops. Since Dave Pelzer and Frank McCourt came along, a decade or so ago, all that has changed. The genre has been sexed up, or rather, gloomed down. The misery memoir is now big business, open for anyone with a good turn of phrase, a dismal childhood, and a triumph over adversity to relate in the last chapter. Shalom Auslander, whose childhood was as grim as any of the misery memoirists, has launched a new sub-genre, the Anger memoir. Auslander’s anger, as expressed in his bracing and witty, though off-puttingly titled, Foreskin’s Lament, is directed at two entities: his family and God.” (The Independent, Sunday, 24 February 2016.)
The Guardian’s John Crace is happy to dish out tips on how to write a misery memoir about your “dull life story.” He says: “Imagine that your parents didn’t beat you up, that you were only slightly bullied at school, that you only get pissed from time to time and that you haven’t got a fatal illness. How does that make you feel? Inadequate, I should think. Who is going to want to read your life story? Even the market for misery memoirs has its limits and no one is going to be interested in the heartfelt pain of being rather ordinary. But don’t let that hold you back. Because if you are really determined to spill your guts, you can. Here’s how.”
The BBC’s Brendan O’Neill describes the “Mis Lit” as stories “in which the author tells of his or her triumph over personal trauma. Referred to by publishing houses as “inspirational lit” – or “inspi-lit” – many, though by no means all, of the harrowing memoirs tell of being sexually abused as a child. And they are proving to be hugely popular. Currently there are three such books in the top 10 best-selling paperbacks in Britain.” One of O’Neill’s interviewees, James W Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, argues that people can help themselves to heal from past traumas by writing about them” “There’s compelling evidence that writing about serious emotional upheavals can improve mental and physical health,” says Pennebaker, who admits that actual research on the issue is still scarce.
MisBlog (Misery Blog) story of the month is that of Judith O’Reilly who’s impressively successful blog “Wife in the North” offers an “an online chronicle of her battles with three children, two elderly parents and an absentee husband while living in a northern hamlet, with the nearest town half an hour’s drive away.” Apparently, publishers Viking Penguin thought that the blog qualifies as a potential MisLit killer and offered O’Reilly 70,000 pounds to turn her blog into a book.
MisLit sells: in a evocative piece, (“The pornography of misery memoirs“), the Daily Mail, Danuta Kean says -“Drunken mothers, bestial fathers, paedophilia and incest. They’re the titillating popcorn of publishing today.” Kean lists UK authors who coined it telling stories “one should leave for therapy.”
In my previous piece I posed the question whether it is at all important that, sometimes, “true life stories” turn out to be not just MisLit but also a fake? Is truth pre-requisite when dealing with pornography? Maybe it is just a sophisticated alibi, allowing us to read books one used to keep in brown bags under one’s bed?