“I think I’m ready for my close-up,” Britney Spears intones on her latest album, joylessly, mechanically, as if being the center of attention is now about as appealing to her as spending 72 hours locked inside an oil drum with Dr. Phil. And yet still there are suitors willing to bet on her capacity for self-disclosure. According to the Daily Mirror, a book publisher has offered Spears $14 million to produce a three-volume autobiography.

On first thought, it’s hard to say which number in that sentence is more astounding. Three books to chronicle Spears’ silly 27-year-old life, when even the notoriously long-winded Bill Clinton is taking only two to chronicle his? Fourteen million dollars? At, say, 333 pages per book, that’s $14,000 a page, or more than Henry David Thoreau earned for his complete collected works. The universe is viciously unjust!

Or, is $14 million actually a fair price, given… More…

 

We live in an age of autobiography, one in which young writers cannot even bother to change people’s names to create a novel, in which a story being true is a greater virtue than being well written, or insightful, or interesting.

I have a few unyielding standards for a memoir: Either your book must be exceptionally written (a trait hard to find in memoirs these days) or you must have done something exceptional. You must have traveled to the underground or the heavens and come back with fire or golden apples or at least a little wisdom. It can’t just be, “Daddy hit me, mommy got cancer” — everyone has a sad story, and it is possible to go through a trauma or experience something significant without gaining any insight.

You would think that the spiritual memoir would… More…

If platitudes had weight, Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope would be impossible to lift off the table. Still, it’s a good book. By the standards of “writings by politicians” it’s in the top percentile. You read it and you like the man. You read it and feel that he has managed somehow to be both a skilled politician and a genuine human being. He writes, for instance, about what motivates politicians to run for office and to continue doing so:

Neither ambition nor single-mindedness fully accounts for the behavior of politicians, however. There is a companion emotion, perhaps more pervasive and certainly more destructive, an emotion that, after the giddiness of your official announcement as a candidate, rapidly locks you in its grip and doesn’t release you until after Election Day. That emotion is fear. Not just fear of losing — although that is bad enough — but fear… More…