I write my memoirs – does that just make me a character in a book? | Hadley freeman
“I thought this review was judgmental and spoke of me as if I was an idiot and not a journalist and not someone who wrote bestselling books and award winning articles, ”said the bestselling and award winning writer ( for memory) Nancy Jo Sales at the Femsplainers podcast, in what was arguably the most revealing interview I’ve come across last week. Sales, probably best known for her work on Vanity Fair, wrote a book, Nothing Personal, about online dating culture, following her documentary, Swipe, and 2015 Vanity Fair feature on the subject. In all of her views on this issue, Sales concludes that these apps are bad for women, and she relies at least in part on her own experience: “I realized it’s really not fun in the way. whose sex is supposed to be. It is often bad for women. The guy doesn’t know or care about you, ”she said in the interview.
I admit that I haven’t read Sales’s book yet. But, judging from what she said, I guess that focuses on her online dating experience, and she didn’t particularly like the perspective of some critics. The review which she described as “critical” was in progress. the New York Times, and his interview with the Femsplainers did not go much better. Interviewer Danielle Crittenden said the reason Sales, 56, found the apps so appalling was that although she said she was looking for a “company,” she said in her profile of met that she was looking for men in their twenties, would then invite them over for casual sex.
“I feel judged by you and I feel ashamed by you,” Sales said, then ended the interview.
On the same day, Sinéad O’Connor was BBC Radio 4’s wife’s hour discuss his memories, Memories, which refers to his mental health issues. Host Emma Barnett mentioned that a reviewer once described O’Connor as “the crazy lady in the attic of pop.” O’Connor playfully dismissed the description, but then tweeted that the interview was “offensive and misogynisticQuoting this quote.
It reminded me of the fury in 2017, when writer Roxane Gay was promoting her book. Hunger: a memory of (my) body. In the book, Gay describes the negotiations she must conduct with the world as “a woman of size”, especially once struggling to take the stage for an event “as hundreds of people awkwardly watched.” Gay spoke to Mamamia, an Australian podcast. When the podcast then went live, it came with this description, which awkwardly attempted to emulate Gay’s tone in the book: “Visiting bestselling author, college professor, and writer Roxane Gay requires a lot of planning. Will she fit in the office elevator? How many steps will she have to take to get to the interview? None of this is leaked with a wicked mind, it’s part of what Roxane writes in Hunger. Gay described it as “cruel and humiliating” and the website apologized.
Nowadays, no story is more valued than someone’s personal experience. I wrote over a decade ago about the trend in journalism in which journalists (often women) cannibalize their own lives for copy, and it has spilled over into publishing. Simple fiction writers find it difficult to compete for attention against books based on experience on, say, dating (Dolly Alderton’s All i know about love), or motherhood (Eliane Glaser Maternity: a manifesto). Personal experience is considered the last word. “This is my truth” is the mantra of the modern age.
But when you write about your personal experience, it becomes public property, and the public – and the press – will have their own truths about your truth. This seems to take many writers by surprise; they think they can talk about their experience but not be challenged about it. Ideally, readers will feel like they’re sensitive, but not necessarily, and hearing how you describe yourself in turn turns what once sounded like a confession or self-mockery into something more like an insult. Your own life is reframed by others, but it’s nobody’s job to endorse a writer’s interpretation of their experience, other than their publicist.
Since my book on my family came out last year, strangers have shared their thoughts on my loved ones with me, which never fails to make me weird. Someone recently emailed me saying he thought I was wrong to say that my great-uncle Alex, a proud Zionist, would be disgusted with Israel’s policies today. My first reaction was, “Um, who knew Alex here, buddy, you or me?” But I had made Alex a character in a book, so of course readers will have their own stories about him.
And soon they’ll have their own thoughts on me, now that I’m writing, yes, a brief, this time about my teenage years in various psychiatric institutions. Maybe they’ll applaud my glorious triumph over odds, or maybe they’ll laugh at that I was an abused narcissist. It is the risk you take when you monetize your life. Memoir writers should adhere to this maxim: Better to have people who question your interpretation of your life than to have no one talking about it at all.