Who’s reading all of these memoirs? It must be someone, because I see all kinds of hubbub whenever a new memoir from some famous person comes out, whether that’s a celebrity or a politician (who these days seem really to be little more than wanna-be celebrities who happen to have actual power over people’s lives), with the most recent example that comes to mind being Spare. I didn’t see a single positive review for it, and yet it got more attention and more reviews than far more worthwhile pieces of writing. Personally, I don’t see reason for all the commotion.

There is only a single review on the site that could be considered a memoir, which would be the Babur-Nama. It is an unfinished memoir mixed with a personal journal, and even given the interest of the historical context, the memoir parts were exceptionally dull. I guess maybe you could could Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography? Aside from those examples, I think the only memoir I’ve read would be Robert E Lee’s memoirs, which I picked up for a project all the way back in middle school. Certainly, none of the memoirs of modern personages have interest to me.

It takes, I think, a certain arrogance to write a memoir for public consumption. That is deeply on display in the memoir portions of the Babur-Nama, in which Babur labors to describe the lineages and relations of each and every august persona with whom he interacts. Modern pleas for attention take different forms, but memoirs today are no less full of them. Writing a memoir for personal use, or to share your stories with close friends and family, is an excellent thing, especially for people nearing the end of their lives, as a way to ensure that those unique stories are not forgotten. To write a memoir near the prime of your life, for the purpose of broader publication and consumption, seems an acute hubris.

What makes people think that the whole world should be able to read about them? Autobiographies can be arrogant enough; memoirs, their more reflective and subjective cousins, are even more so. What makes someone sit down and think ‘hm, I think that I should write five hundred thousand words about my own thoughts and feelings on my own life,’ and then expect other people to pay to read them? It baffles me. It’s the novel-length version of posting what you had for breakfast on social media. It’s as arrogant as people who write blogs and expect people to be interested in whatever they have to say on a given Tuesday.

It really is the act of sharing the memoir, not the act of writing it, that I find off-putting. Am I missing something? Are you someone who reads memoirs like Becoming and gains vast new insights? If so, if you know something that I don’t, I would welcome learning something new. Until then, I will continue rolling my eyes at celebrity memoirs.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Memoirs

  1. Hm, while I agree with you that too many celebrities are writing memoirs to try to make a quick buck and that I personally have little interest in reading such books, I disagree with you that all memoirs are “arrogant”. I read memoirs to help me understand other people on a deeper level. Fiction can accomplish the same, but you can never know for sure how much is based on personal experience and how much is truly reflective of reality. Memoirs can be helpful in a way that fiction can’t.

    I’ve read a memoir by a woman sharing her experience of being bullied in school, which included sections intended to help parents and teachers learn how to help children being bullied today. I’ve read a memoir by a woman with muscular dystrophy, sharing how people have treated her vs how she likes to be treated, what her capabilities are vs what people tend to think they are, and the stigma against disabled people in general and the ways people like her try to fight against it. Recently, I read a book that wasn’t a memoir but that included portions of memoir that shared personal experiences of the author relevant to the subject being discussed (racism in the modern US). I have Persepolis on my TBR list, which I’m given to understand is a memoir in the form of a graphic novel that tells the story of a girl growing up in Iran during a time period that I know little about and would like to learn about through her eyes.

    There are so many examples of memoirs that can teach you valuable things about the world. And there are also memoirs that are far better written than those by celebrities. If a person can write very well, why shouldn’t they write their own story if that story is engaging and offers insights into a particular type of person or a particular set of experiences or a particular part of the world?

    I would challenge you to look beyond the celebrity memoirs that give the genre a fighting chance. How do you feel about The Diary of Anne Frank? Or Walden? Or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I bet you can find some work that interests you and that, after reading it, you feel it was worthwhile.


    1. Thank you for your most thoughtful comment, and I apologize for giving the impression that I was disparaging all memoirs as without value. My intended target was the large-scale, mass-marketed, celebrity-type memoir, not all possible examples of the subgenre, but in retrospect it is clear I cast too wide a net, so thank you for calling me out on that. I agree with you that it is entirely possible for a memoir to be used as a means of sharing a particular set of unique experiences with others, especially given the idea that we are all the protagonists of our own stories.
      Perhaps I will look at adding some memoirs to my readings list that are not by fifteenth century would-be emperors (in fairness, the diary portions of the Babur-Nama were far more interesting than the memoir portions). Some of my bias may be that I tend to read biographies, histories, and fictional works about what could be termed Great Moments, and memoirs seem, from your insight, to shine most when they are written about smaller, more personal matters.
      Now that you mention them, I did read The Diary of Anne Frank and found it worthwhile, and Walden, but I found the latter…odd. Perhaps the secret to finding the best memoirs is to seek out the ones that aren’t well-read, that aren’t famous or considered must-reads. After all, would not those be the stories that aren’t being told? If reading is about vicarious new experiences, then I would think there is where they might be found.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I appreciate you taking the time to thoughtfully respond 🙂 I do think you might find some examples of memoir that fit what you’re looking for if you give it a shot. If you decide to do so, I wish you luck!


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