Whether it be through Twitter, Instagram and other social media or simply via the television, it is difficult to deny the existence of celebrities. Celebrity presence is known even in the literary realm; supplemental to the success of many are their autobiographies and memoirs. From Mindy Kaling to the Kardashians, celebrities enhance the experience of their followers by sharing their own stories.
“Even I bought into it a few years ago, which as an English major, maybe I shouldn’t admit,” Hillary Smith, a Keene State College senior English and secondary education student said. Smith, who is also a tutor at the Center for Writing at KSC, said, “There was a point in my college experience that almost all of my friends were reading Chelsea Handler or Tina Fey.”
Kirsti Sandy, a KSC professor of English who teaches courses in memoir and nonfiction, said, “There have always been a lot out there, but they have changed. Nowadays, a lot of celebrities are writing them much younger, so they’re really true memoirs where you get one piece of their life as opposed to the whole scope of it,” Sandy said.
With a plethora of celebrity autobiographies on shelves, the question is, are these celebrity autobiographies a blatant cash cow, or are their stories substantial, written work?
“I feel like people do buy them just because celebrities write them,” Holly Morris said, also an English and education senior at KSC. “As much as people like to say they hate celebrities, they like knowing what goes on in other people’s lives.”
Sandy admitted to looking at Kris Jenner’s autobiography, titled Kris Jenner…and All Things Kardashian.
“It’s really self-serving and self-branding,” she continued, “She talks a lot about how popular the show is and how popular her family is and why, and it feels like one big ad for the TV show — so that is the danger, I think, of these current, quick-cycled memoirs — that they’re doing branding work and not telling any good story.”
“So many people now find celebrities’ lives addicting, especially with the constant buzz of social media,” Smith added, “Knowing the latest news on a certain celebrity, or reading their latest book, gives fans a connection to others around them — something that they can always talk about that is somewhat universal,” Smith said.
However, not all memoirs by celebrities are centered around the drive of their fan base. Finding them is just a matter of knowing one’s personal preferences and where to look.
“Some of the books that get out there are really, really good,” Sandy said, citing Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.
“These are literary memoirs. They focus on time and place, they try to capture what it was like to live there, there’s a good story; there’s characters. I don’t think those types of memoir are going away, because I think there is this intrinsic part of us that wants to know about somebody else’s life. And the surface stuff, I like to think, is not enough to sustain us for long,” Sandy continued.
“Usually, I like reading memoirs from someone with more experience than I have, because I want to learn something,” Morris said. “I think you have to look for the celebrity. Some people do have more experience than others, some people have different struggles. Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, for example, have different stories.”
“I’d think it’s more important to look for literary quality than the attached celebrity name,” Smith said. “It might help to read the reviews — and not just the good ones.”
“I tend to rely on word of mouth a lot,” Sandy added. “You also really have to like the writer, and you have to like the actual writing. For me, I actually have to read the first few pages.” Despite critique, Sandy said she is pleased when she sees people reading books, regardless.
“I think it’s good that people are reading celebrity memoirs,” Sandy said. “I’m a fan of people reading books, and I’d rather have them read one than maybe watch a bio on the person because you really do get the insight from the person.”
Anthony Munoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org