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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"And dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt...."

Snapped this in a remaindered book shop in the Charing Cross Road this afternoon.

The "horrible childhoods" category is what I believe is referred to in some quarters of the book retail trade as "the boo-fucking-hoo section".

The "jolly childhoods" category is probably some member of staff's effort to cheer themselves up.

I feel they should be supported.

18 comments:

  1. That's fantastic. It could lead to a trend of literal book category descriptions - 'books you like the look of but probably won't read'; 'books you thought you ought to read but probably won't'; 'books for buying for other people because it makes you look like an intelligent and thoughtful gift-giver' - etc. To be applauded.

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  2. Friend in publishing calls them misery memoirs and says they're the best selling books they do other than celeb fronted stuff.

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  3. I don't really get the appeal of these books. I did read This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolfe, which predates the current trend by quite a bit, some time ago. While the central character did have a difficult youth it did attempt to get inside his head and understand what made him behave how he did. It wasn't just a chronicle of misery.

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  4. Have you noticed how misery memoirs have their own special font for the title on the cover? A faux-handwritten script that says 'Daddy, Don't Stamp On Me' etc.

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  5. Is the section to the top right "medical childhoods" this shelf surely must contain only one book "Dougie Howser MD: My struggle!......

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  6. In my local branch of Waterstones this section is called: 'Painful Lives'. If I was managing the store it would be well-stocked with Jordan and Victoria Beckham biographies.

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  7. As you've pointed out they sell very well, and all concerned in the arrangement are happy: the victim makes some money and is given an opportunity to tell their side of the story, the publishers make some money, the reader is immersed in a story that has all the beats of fiction -- a protagonist in peril, challenges to overcome, an upbeat redemptive ending -- yet with the added impact of being real. Yet there's a curled lip that always accompanies any discussion of misery memoirs. Why? Do we disagree with victims profiting from their ordeals? Are we all of a sudden prurient about what other people read? Do we think only celebrities should be able to tell their stories? Something makes people very uncomfortable around this issue, and it must go deeper than the generic packaging, surely?

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  8. Joe: your point seems to be that it's ok for people to spend there time picking at mental scabs as long as they getting paid. Surely the place for dealing with mental illness, abuse etc is in a coordinated programme of therapy, support and medical help not on the sofa of the Richard and Judy show.
    This isn't a question of sweeping problems under the carpet just not treating serious issues as so much bread and circuses.

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  9. I'm not sure that victims are *that* quick to fire up the old computer, BLTP. These memoirs are written on the other side of the recovery process you describe. Even so, isn't it up to the author how they deal with their issues? Who are you to say how they should handle them? And if you think these books mishandle serious issues, how do you think they should be treated? My guess is you'd rather not hear about it all.

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  10. What I'm thinking is these people need a good clip 'round the ear and a spell in the Army to sort them out. Not a book deal.

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  11. To be serious what I object to is the Oprah-ization of personal problems, this desperate need to share that is afflicting society. So yes, that does mean I'd rather not hear about it.

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  12. And sharing personal problems -- this innately human characteristic -- is somehow wrong is it? Or is it only wrong when you personally dislike the format? My contention here is that people don't like misery memoirs not because 'there are too many of them' or 'they all look the same', but because they feel a bit icky about the way abuse rubs up against commerce. Even though it's a transaction that benefits the victim, it's just feels a little bit 'wrong'. And I think if you feel that way you need to ask yourself why.

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  13. I agree with Clair's comment about the uniformity of the covers: a picture of a child looking sad in one half of the cover, a hand-written title (Abused, Hurt, Shamed or whatever) and then usually a sub-line to the effects of 'An evil man, a childhood lost' or whatever.
    I don't worry much about the idea of these stories brushing up against commerce (it happens in magazines and books all the time, so why not books?), but I think the way they're all packaged so similarly looks almost cynical or even calculated, which tends to make me sceptical from the off.
    J

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  14. In a recent Grauniad column, Simon Hoggart reported that publishing types have been cheering themselves up by trying to think of the worst possible title for one of these 'cryographies'. The winner was 'Please no, Grandad, not on my face'.

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  15. That's true. Rumour had it there was even a spoof manuscript with that title. Needless to say, this was a rumour perpetuated by the publishers who are always lightning-quick to distance themselves from this particular revenue stream. It's not very cool, and the proles like it, and the fact that it paid for the quirky 'History of the Theremin' I'm promoting, and the lunch I'm buying you to promote it, is by-the-by…

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  16. True, many publishers know the value of cross-subsidy, but I fear that's going to get harder to justify in the current climate.

    Maybe I'm 'special', but I wouldn't need a lunch bribe to buy a book on the history of the Theremin, and I know a few others who'd be all over that book like a cheap suit.

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  17. Please, Leon, No.

    "The most shocking true story of oscillation ever told"

    If we can shift 5,000 a week and get supermarket support, we could be on to a winner.

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  18. http://miserymemoir.blogspot.com/

    true life misery.

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