08/27/2010 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Memoirists Are the Lit World Equivalent of Reality Television Stars

I hate when I write such an accurate title that everything traveling in its wake (namely, this article) seems to suffer by comparison. Well, to be fair, this article would suck even if the title had something to do with the nocturnal emissions of earthworms, so I don't know who I'm trying to fool here.

I know I've only been a memoirist for a few months now and therefore can't possibly have full comprehension of the disease that is inherent in memoirists, but for those good people out there who are currently seeking to sell their memoirs, let me attempt to warn you.

When you sell a book you begin tomcatting around, namedropping the "A-word" (Author) to all your friends and neighbors. You feel "high-falutin'." You begin to use words like "high-falutin'" and talk about the "exegesis" of your "tome." This might sound alluring, but it isn't. It leads you down a dangerous path where you wear scarves when it isn't "scarf weather" and, finally, it culminates in nihilism. Well, really, it's a sort of faux nihilism, but when you don't even really believe in nihilism, you know you're in a dark place.

And since you've read that wicked-accurate title, you know by now that the closest approximation in relevant culture to the memoirist is the reality TV star. Both see their career "choice" as a sort of secret path toward their ultimate and more legitimate goal: stardom. And tragically, both camps are shocked when their sophomore efforts suck. Suddenly, desperate, and in fear of becoming irrelevant, the memoirist turns to writing "an off-Broadway monologue" while the reality TV star engages in a "reunion show." This is the high-art equivalent of the stripper succumbing to porn. And then one day after much rejection and self-reflection, you're taking the "Scarf Boat" to "Nihilism Island."

Ask Justin Guarini, the first season runner up on American Idol. As the taping of that first season wound down, I'm sure he was thinking, "I've made it--I've grasped the gold horseshoe of success, I'm riding the gravy train, I'm eating pie in the sky with Steve Vai." Well maybe he wasn't thinking exactly that, but the point is, nowadays, I bet you could get him to sing at your niece's bat mitzvah.

The same is true of the memoirist, for you see, we are a dime a dozen (or at least our books are once they reach the sell-by date). Anyone who ever iced a cake, walked down a city block in snowshoes or spent several tumultuous years engaged in a psychosexual relationship with their rock star father while under the influence of mind-bending narcotics and withering under the harsh glare of fame's spotlight has written a memoir. These days, memoirs have the permanence of ice in a urinal. They should update the saying to read, "Those who can no longer do, write memoirs. Those who can't write memoirs, teach. Those who can't teach, also write memoirs."
Sure some reality TV stars escape the cage and achieve legitimacy, and even some memoirists become accepted novelists, purveyors of true literature. Can I name any of those memoirists? No. But this isn't about the ones who got away this is about you and me, the tuna caught in the net. And our responsibility to warn the tuna who yearn to be caught in a net, any net. Even in the golden age of the insta-celebrity, there's still something to be said for doing it right.