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March 5th, 2008

memoir woes

I've been completely fascinated by the _Love and Consequences_ debacle. For those not following along in other areas, here's the short form:

extremely white girl raised by bio-parents with sib in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley
volunteers helping some gang members
starts writing down some of their stories, but using first person, in a class
teacher refers her to Inga Muscio, who is writing a book on racism and interviews her
(so for sure by this point, she's representing herself as (a) having a different last name and (b) a very different history)
Muscio refers her to an editor at Riverhead, a Penguin imprint
at this point, extremely white girl is making the following claims:
half white, half Native American
raised in a foster home in South Central LA
gang banger, now an "inactive" member, whatever that might mean
and introducing a variety of people to her editor as her foster siblings
goal/result: book _Love and Consequences_ released last Friday with massive favorable coverage in O, NYTRB, etc.
bio-sibling sees coverage (duh); contacts press and sez, hey, that's a lot of b.s.
media and blog feeding frenzy ensues, with some pretty crappy coverage

Here are the interesting highlights from my perspective:

(1) Do they not even request Driver's License/Social Security Card -- I-9 type documentation to establish identity? You would think, 3 years in the works, you'd do at least that.
(2) Margaret "Peggy" Jones/Seltzer claimed to have founded a gang-assistance organization called International Brother/Sisterhood. A minimal website exists, primarily to focus attention on the author and the book, with a slim list of other related organizations, the claim to provide one-on-one mentoring and no obvious way to actually get the organization to help someone who wanted help.
(3) Seltzer's grammar is, not to put too fine a point on it, way too good. See also complaints about Cupcake Brown's memoir _A Piece of Cake_ and, in general, any cross section of writing produced by young gang members in prison and participating in prison writing programs. Grammar, not their strong point.

It seems clear to me that what the memoir-junkie wants from a memoir is largely incompatible with truth-in-advertising. They want a story that makes them feel like they were there/they know the memoirist intimately. A non-fraudulent bio/memoir isn't typically going to satisfy that. An authentic memoir will not have clear meaning in its events, will have a lot of extraneous details, will present a person who is at times, if not all the time, fairly unlikeable. A memoir-junkie looking for truly-appalling-early-life stories is going to be double handicapped if non-standard English hangs them up, because really bad early life experiences don't often lead to skilled novelizing, er, memoir writing.

The whole enterprise looks kinda bankrupt to me. I look forward to further scandal.

A slight addendum: Seltzer presumably _has_ some amazing story to tell that _is_ true. Usually, people who turn out to be massive, pathological liars have some kind of batshit crazy background worth telling. At least, in my limited experience. Unfortunately, they've usually completely lost any connection to it, so it would probably have to be told by (a) someone else or (b) after a whole lot of therapy (and therefore, effectively, someone else).

toddler fun: spelling bridge

We've got some letters and numbers. T. really likes the Melissa and Doug wooden alphabet puzzle. He likes to take the letters out and line them up. Lately, this lining them up has taken the following forms:

dru (and sometimes m)
cut
corn
whel (only one of each letter -- this frustrates him, but he doesn't want to mix letter styles to spell wheel)
wand

Today, things got way out of hand. I watched him spell "bridge".

These are all words spelled on SuperWhy.

But dude, how many 2 year olds have you watched spell "bridge"?

RHI he recently spelled ladder, also.

playing with books

I used to rearrange my library when I didn't feel like reading, but wanted a soothing activity that I knew would make me feel good. Given the current state of the library (lots in boxes, the rest behind gates or boxes to prevent T. from getting into them), that's pretty much not going to happen and/or wouldn't be relaxing if it did happen.

Recently, I posted about someone who created a spreadsheet for a year's worth of book buying from Amazon and compared what it would have cost if they had the kindle that year instead. I thought this was (a) quite nutty and (b) really cool and so I did the same. After last night's meeting, since I've been feeling a need for a settling activity, I figured I'd do 2006.

A couple of interesting observations. First, I bought fewer books from Amazon (for me -- I'm not counting presents for other people, books for T., anything other than books) in 2006 than in 2007. We were still living in Seattle for 9 months of 2006, and K. and I (and often R. and T., or just R. if we had child care) would go down to Elliot Bay Books and browse, or sometimes Barnes & Noble or Borders or whatever seemed appealing at the time. This was my primary social outing. Oh, there was also Jackson St. Books, which I discovered comparatively late, but was extremely wonderful since it was essentially right across the street. Despite buying fewer (112 vs. 153) books, I spent more money in 2006 ($1826.34 vs. $1721.16). The numbers actually lie for two reasons. First, I was buying used books both years, and the minimum shipping went up between 2006 and 2007 from $3.49 to $3.99. Also, I was paying sales tax on Amazon purchases in 2006 through September (shipping to Seattle address, so WA state tax applied), but didn't care to break the sales tax down on a book by book basis, so it is effectively included only on single book orders.

Average book price (16.30 in 2006 vs. 11.25 in 2007) does not do an adequate job of capturing what the real difference was. I think the difference can be largely chalked up to several monographs I bought in 2006. The most expensive books from 2007 were library related (two textbooks about Children's/YA literature, Planning the Modern Public Library), and were $50-$65 each.

By contrast, parenting/child development text/monographs are really ridiculously expensive: Adolescent Sleep Patterns at almost $80, Parents' Cultural Belief Systems at $74. Parenting Experts at $45 looks cheap by comparison. But the killer, really, was Night-Time and Sleep in Asia and the West at $125.

Used paperback academic books about Disney, by comparison, are really, really cheap.

I have no idea what the moral of this story is.