Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market
Publication Year: 2013
Since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of memoirs by celebrities and unknown people have been published, sold, and read by millions of American readers. The memoir boom, as the explosion of memoirs on the market has come to be called, has been welcomed, vilified, and dismissed in the popular press. But is there really a boom in memoir production in the United States? If so, what is causing it? Are memoirs all written by narcissistic hacks for an unthinking public, or do they indicate a growing need to understand world events through personal experiences? This study seeks to answer these questions by examining memoir as an industrial product like other products, something that publishers and booksellers help to create. These popular texts become part of mass culture, where they are connected to public events. The genre of memoir, and even genre itself, ceases to be an empty classification category and becomes part of social action and consumer culture at the same time. From James Frey’s controversial A Million Little Pieces, to memoirs about bartending, Iran, the liberation of Dachau, computer hacking, and the impact of 9/11, this book argues that the memoir boom is more than a publishing trend. It is becoming the way American readers try to understand major events in terms of individual experiences. The memoir boom is one of the ways that citizenship as a category of belonging between private and public spheres is now articulated.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Title Page, Copyright Page
I’d like to thank my colleagues in auto/biography studies and life writing from around the world, and especially those in IABA (The International Association for Biography and Autobiography). Specifically, I’d like to thank my collaborators, Laurie McNeill and Anna Poletti. ...
Introduction: Identifying the Memoir Industry
In the afternoons, when the sun shone a little lower over Lake Champlain in Vermont, my grandmother would stretch out on a day bed on her screened-in back porch, put on a pair of half glasses, pick up her latest book, and read. She was an avid reader. Every week, she would go to the little Greek Revival–style Bixby Memorial Library in Vergennes, the nearest town. ...
Chapter 1. “More Books!”: Publishing, Non-fiction, and the Memoir Boom
The story of the memoir boom is at its heart a story of publishing. Oprah Winfrey’s comment to Nan Talese, James Frey’s editor and publisher, during the height of the controversy about Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces bears this out. On the Oprah Winfrey Show episode called “A Million Little Lies,” ...
Chapter 2. Bookstores, Genre, and Everyday Practices
I have been looking at how genre is an important aspect of book publishing, because a consideration of memoir necessarily involves thinking about what kind of book merits publishing, and why certain kinds of stories become public. But in the book production and distribution cycle, it is important to consider the stage between the book’s publication ...
Chapter 3. Going Public: Selected Memoirs Produced by Random House and HarperCollins
In the previous chapters I constructed a picture of the industry that makes memoir possible and helps it to circulate in specific conditions. Now I turn my attention to three outcomes of the production of memoir. First, I examine how memoir is categorized by larger mainstream publishers and I analyze some characteristics of memoirs produced by these publishers. ...
Chapter 4. Exceptionally Public: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis I: The Story of a Childhood and James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces
In 2003, more than one hundred and sixty books labelled by their press as memoir, biography, or autobiography were published by Random House and HarperCollins. Some of these books sold relatively well and were re-released as paperbacks. As is the case with the majority of books published in any given year, some titles were not successful and probably few people bought or read them. ...
Conclusion: Citizen Selves and the State of the Memoir Boom
If the New York Times Bestseller lists are to be believed, the memoir boom lasted the entire first decade of the twenty-first century, and it shows no signs of stopping during the second decade. The hardcover non-fiction list for the week of December 19, 2010, listed seven memoirs in the top fifteen entries (New York Times 2010a). ...