The Pointless Memoir

There are two kinds of memoirs: insightful and pointless. With the barriers to publication all but fallen away with the advent and standardization of technologies to enable self-publishing, I estimate that the pointless memoir now makes up 95 percent of the category. In fact, self-publishing and memoirs were practically made for each other. Everyone has at least one story in them – their own; and in most cases that’s all they have. One maudlin tale that all readers outside the author’s immediate circle of friends and family would find stultifying. Clearly, an author incapable of penning more than one book is not someone a traditional publisher would waste a moment on. For this reason companies such as AuthorHouse, Xlibris and iUniverse have flourished, serving the “one-book wonder” and taking profits from these deluded scribblers who spend a fortune on cover design, layout, editing, marketing and the purchase of boxes of books that end up lining the walls of the garage.

Among the thousands of memoirs self-published every month, do any approach the quality and insightfulness of say The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War or even something self-serving like Decision Points, George W. Bush’s recollections from the White House? No chance. Why? Because none of these pointless memoirists actually accomplished anything of historical value, either valiant or vainglorious. The pointless memoir has become the 21st century version of the carousel of Ektachrome slides documenting far-flung trips taken by boorish types and flashed one after the other before the glazed eyes of their captive guests.

Just reading the blurbs for these exercises in futility is convincing enough:

107 Main Street by Ross Davidson. “The author was the son of a poor immigrant woman and a wealthy American who abandoned them. Denied help by his father and living in privation, this is his story about haves and have-nots.” Sounds like a churlish hatchet job on bad-old-dad to me.

Farm Boy’s Dream by John Jacobs. “Recounts his life on the farm and his dreams of flying. The advent of World War 2 made his fantasy become reality, when he joined the military, became a bomber pilot, and lived the Farm Boy’s Dream.” This “military grunt” subcategory of the memoir seems to be one of the fastest-growing as soft-bellied boomers belatedly seek to immerse themselves in the real war action they protested against as teen-agers, but now feel gypped out of participating in.

Day-Day’s Dream by Doris Tanner Ross. “As the owner of Doris Tanner’s Flowers, Inc., at the age of eighty-eight years old, Doris Tanner Ross decided to fulfill the request of her many friends and family over the past years to tell her story. The story begins in 1924 in Sullivan’s Hollow. She had many struggles during the depression era as a war widow with a baby to raise. With God as her guide—“ I can’t continue – too treacly. Right in the first sentence, the motivation is clear: write a book for my family (of course, AuthorHouse also gets to extract a nice four-figure fee, presumably from Granny Doris’s network of rapt descendants.)

My Untold Torment by Pippa Sloane. “I have experienced the dark underside of how many Portuguese behave and treat their fellow human beings as opposed to what their smiling, double-kiss greeting portrays. . . . This memoir is based on my personal knowledge, experiences, and feelings. . . . Some of the incidents are embellished for comic effect.” Wow – I can’t wait to devote a couple hours reading Sloane’s psychopathic drivel. By the way, if you tell all the horrific details of how the Portuguese mistreat the non-Portuguese, how is it a torment “untold”?

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