Who's Being Bagged–Alexandra Penney or the Buyers of Her Memoir?
Remember when we looked at one of the casualties of the Bernie Madoff scandal–artist and blogger Alexandra Penney who got a book deal to tell her story? Here’s the blog post from February 12, 2009 catalogued under the catagory “memoir in the news.”
Just one year later, the book is not only written but published, and today NPR did a feature on the author, including an excerpt from the book.
The comments are highly critical of NPR for “shilling” for a writer who seems to evoke little sympathy for her small misfortunes compared to the truly indigent women she compares herself to. She may fear being turned into a “bag lady,” but in reality, she came nowhere close to that fate. I read the excerpt on the NPR page and decided not to buy the book.
What do you think? Who is the audience for a book like this? Do you expect it to succeed or fail? Commenters on the NPR website were disgusted that NPR ran the story. Are you?
This and the reaction to it raise interesting questions about what kind of people we expect writers to be. I wouldn't buy this book and probably wouldn't read it, but she had a right to tell her story. It hit a sour note with the NPR demographic, apparently not her audience, but she may have one, a small one, who can identify with her situation. She leaves me a little cold, too, but the self righteous anger of the commentators was equally off-putting to me.
What a charitable response, and how appropriate on the first day of Lent! Yes, this story does invite a conversation about “what kind of people we expect writers to be.” One approach is to say that it would be good if everyone in the world wrote a memoir. The self-reflection would have to be good for us. Still another is the cynic's approach. Memoir is narcisism and not good for writers or readers.Another response is to say that anyone can write one, but I as a reader will only take the time to read a memoir that promises ______, and then go on to define a personal aesthetic/standard of ethics. That's what I am stumbling toward in this blog. Any list of the “best” will have implicit standards by which excellence is judged. I decided not to read this book because I think it will content itself with the material world primarily. I also want to feel the writer's motive. If it appears to be primarily economic before it is self-discovery and striving for truth and beauty, I am put off. Publishing these days is so much about the dollar already, and clearly money has to be a big part of this writer's motive. Her goals don't seem to change. Her methods do.I also agree that the righteous anger in the comments section was over the top. Penney actually has wrestled with negative responses, because the comments on her blog are sometimes nasty also. Her insight that there is a lot of anger in the country and her willingness to take some of it was actually the most interesting thing about the NPR peice, I thought. Even that approach, however, could be calculated. “The only bad publicity is no publicity.”
Difficult times, life's reversals and even tragedies make for good stories in a memoir. Thus writers are blessed with the opportunity convert hard times into income through book sales. When the the tragedy being written about is personal it's easy for me to be happy for the author if book sales are good. When the tragedy also happened to many others–in this case perhaps thousands of investors–it occurs to me that perhaps the profits should be shared with others who have experienced similar losses.This sort of controversy makes me curious about the book. However, buying the book would be placing an affirmative vote. Would reading a library copy be different? Hmm, maybe I need to secretly borrow the book. Perhaps commenting on the book as I done here is an affirmation of the book by contributing to the publicity.
I listened to her interview and the first thing that struck me was her face looks much younger than her voice sounds. I wonder how that's possible? Good thing she could afford surgery before becoming a bag lady. OK, I'm not being mean as I really think plastic surgery is great for people who have to show their faces on TV. Which brings me to another question? What about Oprah? Has she had a face lift? Sorry now I'm off on a tangent.Anyway, her publisher must believe she has a platform, or they wouldn't have offered her a large advance. I believe she stated that the advance helped her out quite a bit.Secondly, how many thousands lost money in the Madoff scandal? Their might be a huge audience that has empathy for her right there.All the rich people around the world will read it to see how she almost became a bag lady. I'm happy that she could rent out her small house in the Hamptons. That must have helped her out a little.So there. I think I've discovered her LARGE audience, and guess what? They can afford $24.95 for the Hardcover. No need to get the cheap $9.99 Kindle version.
Interesting idea, to share the book royalties with other victims of Madoff! Or with some real bag ladies. I think had she done this, I would have been more interested in reading the book.When three professors wrote the book Amazing Grace, about the Amish schoolhouse shootings, they decided to give the royalties to Mennonite Central Committee for distribution to suffering children throughout the world. And Greg Mortenson builds schools for girls in Afghanistan with his royalties, I think.Thanks for your comments, Clif. I always enjoy them.
I think I remember that you blogged about Orange County and the prevalence of plastic surgery there one time. So I count on your practiced eye to help me know these things. :-)I think Penney's publisher would consider her to have a platform. She wrote the best-seller How to Make Love to a Man in 1982 and was editor of Self magazine. Those are substantial platforms. Her three blog entries on the Daily Beast also indicated an interest. 32 pages of responses, many of them angry, demonstrate that the subject evokes emotion, and, often, emotion sells books.
Shirley,I organize WOW BLog Tours and would like to talk to you about a book review, guest post or interview with Linda Joy Myers. Myers is touring with her memoir writing how to book The Power of Memoir from March 8 through March 26. I can send you more information about Myers and her book to a more direct email. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for your time.
I welcome Linda Joy as a guest blogger, Jodi. Thanks for thinking of 100Memoirs.com!