Book Talk: History of memoirs finds scandal was not a given

Wed Nov 4, 2009 3:21am EST
 
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - In his memoir, Andre Agassi has admitted to using crystal meth. Irish hurling star Donal Og Cusack came out in his recent autobiography. Sarah Palin's autobiography became a best-seller before its release.

Dishing some dirt has become the recent trend in the memoirs that overflow bookstores with politicians, celebrities, people living an odd life for a year and even animals racing to share their lives with others.

Writer Ben Yagoda, a journalism professor from the University of Delaware who has just published "Memoir: A History," said such candor was not always the case in autobiographies but memoirs do reflect the cultural zeitgeist.

But Yagoda, the biographer of Will Rogers, told Reuters there is one thing about memoirs that has to stay constant for the genre to retain its power and popularity -- the truth.

Q: What is the fascination with memoirs?

A: "People are interested in themselves so it is not surprising people want to tell their own story. The move to put it in covers goes beyond talking at a dinner party. But the question why should readers who don't know us be interested in our story is the big question."

Q: Are there more memoirs coming out now?

A: "It seems there are multiple ones coming out every day. I have a Google news alert for the word memoir. But the subgenre that is not growing is that of politicians and celebrities. The A-list figures have already told their stories once or twice or three times. But it is in a large part a publishing marketing phenomenon. People write their memoir then get booked for talk show appearances. It all sounds very synergistic but in truth a lot of these books don't sell well."   Continued...

 
<p>Andre Agassi of the U.S. looks on during an exhibition tennis match against compatriot Pete Sampras at Venetian Macao in Macau October 25, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>