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On writing (and selling) memoir these days
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By all accounts it was a great party. At least, by an account prominently featured and lavishly illustrated in a recent edition of The New York Times. The author wore glittery Gucci sunglasses, multiple tattoos, a shaved head, fashionable five-inch wedged sandals and a tie-dye skirt presumably referring to the title of his debut book, The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt. It was only one of a number of parties attended by the likes of Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, New Yorker writers Katie Roiphe and Larissa MacFarquhar, assorted agents, publishers and literary lights. The parties were thrown by many of the latter, including Random House, which hosted one upon release of the review galleys, three months before publication.

All of this has been in celebration of Jon-Jon Goulian's new memoir. It is, according to the Publishers Weekly review, a "proud history of menial jobs and underachievement," which attempts to "grab the reader's attention (but) never seems interesting or serious enough to deserve it."

Oh, well.

Not that there are any sour grapes here, or anything like that, my own magnificant memoir having gone nowhere at all despite my fearless agent's attention and endeavors. Although a piece of it did make a brief (and profitable) appearance in last February's More Magazine

But there is some great nonfiction newly on the market, books that are managing to make a go of themselves without quite such elaborate pre-publication celebrations. Good books.

For example - Malled: My unintentional career in retail by gifted fellow Open Salon blogger Caitlin Kelly. Much more than a memoir, Malled is a unique, Nickle and Dimed inside look into one segment of working America. Publishers Weekly (despite calling it her "debut book" -- What? They missed Blown Away?) proclaimed it an "intriguing look into the retail business," but I didn't see Caitlin in any quarter-page New York Times photos. And she would look a lot better than Jon-Jon in Gucci glasses. 

Or what about Belva Davis' Never In My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism? A gutsy, fascinating, historically valuable book written with talented print journalist Vicki Haddock, this one is also far more than a memoir. It's an inside look into broadcast journalism, racism and the courage demanded of those, Black and white, who fight for justice.

These are only two of many new releases which offer serious writing and new insights. I mention them only partly because Caitlin and Belva are friends and it is such fun to drop literary names. But more importantly it is worth noting that both books are informative, engaging and well written, and both authors (actually all three; Vicki gets cover credits) have put decades into honing their craft, knowing their material and -- while they're at it -- supporting good causes. In other words, books and people making a serious contribution to the planet and well worth notice.

Instead, in the New York Times, we get the equivalent of close to one full page of space devoted to the first literary output of a 42-year-old "androgynous man-child" about things like his passing obsessions with body building or collecting serial-killer cards. It is not expected to earn its $750,000 advance. 

Even if the world didn't come to an end as advertised, it does seem somehow off-kilter.