Let me be the last—the absolute dead last—to point out that we're in the midst of a memoir craze. My favorite form of procrastination used to be computer solitaire, but now I prefer to chat on the phone with my writing friends and discuss the ongoing boom in autobiographical literature. We speculate like housing developers prognosticating on the real estate market. Will the bubble pop? Will prices continue to rise? Will market trends ever again veer toward literary fiction?
The true identity of the authors of Believeniks!, a nonfiction account of the New York Mets 2005 baseball season, published in April by Doubleday, was recently reported by New York Magazine. The pseudonymous authors, Harry Conklin and Ivan Felt, were revealed to be novelists Jonathan Lethem (Conklin) and Christopher Sorrentino (Felt).
Sadly, recent revelations are forcing readers—confronted by a brand-new band of literary scallywags, hucksters, and hoaxers—to reconsider the veracity of the story as well as that of the storyteller.
At the end of Folio Literary Management's second month in operation, Scott Hoffman, who represents writers of fiction and nonfiction and receives between two hundred and five hundred queries a week, spoke about the role of agents in today's publishing marketplace.
The author of fifteen books, including eight novels, three short story collections, a memoir, and a ten-volume treatise on the nature and ethics of violence, William T. Vollmann is often associated with his most controversial subjects—crack and prostitution among them. He is also characterized by a few signature stunts, such as firing a pistol during his readings and kidnapping a girl who had been sold into prostitution and turning her over to a relief agency while writing an article for Spin magazine.
On a frigid night in early March, a well-dressed crowd of around five hundred people piled into the New School’s Tishman Auditorium to witness the announcement of the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards. The membership organization of seven hundred critics and reviewers, founded in 1974, bestows awards annually for poetry, fiction, biography, general nonfiction, and criticism. This year, for the first time, autobiography (or memoir), was added as a separate category—an interesting distinction at a time when the controversy over the genre has dominated literary news.
As long as there has been war, there have been writers trying to understand it, turning battlefield horrors into narrative, trying to make something useful out of its debris, but in recent months an unusually high number of soldier memoirs have been released by American publishers.
At no time on my book tour did I jump up and down, wave my fists, and scream, “It’s a novel! That means fiction!” At least I don’t think I did. It’s hard to be sure, because, in my head, I had that tantrum about three times daily as I traveled from town to town in southern Michigan, reading, signing books, and attending the Ann Arbor Book Festival. You see, my novel, Flight, was set in that region, where I had lived during my high school and college years.