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Fake memoirs

January 21, 2010

In The New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn wonders about the recent proliferation of fake memoirs. He points to the rise of confessional talk shows and reality TV, which exist at the margin between real and fake, and to the rise of electronic social networking, which blurs the related distinction between public and private.  Those are certainly both factors, but there are some others that he doesn’t mention. A lot of it is simple economics. Memoirs are popular and they’re much easier to write than novels, so there’s bound to be heavy competition, which gives memoirists a big incentive to juice up their stories. It’s also how books are promoted nowadays. The author interview, in whatever medium, is incredibly important. My sense is that it’s more important, and more prevalent, than ever before. And on average, amazing true-life stories make for better, higher-rated interviews. Finally, memoirs generally excuse the reader from having to puzzle over the author’s intent or search for some unifying aesthetic vision. The memoirist shapes preexisting material; the novelist invents out of whole cloth. As such, events in a memoir are not aesthetic choices in the way that events in a novel are–they’re there more or less because life simply happened that way. The impulses behind memoir–to record, to share, to instruct–are far easier to understand and express than the impulses behind fiction.

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