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Thursday, Jan 28, 2010
by PopMatters Staff
by Daniel Mendelsohn
The New Yorker (25 January 2010)

“By now, the flood feels like a tsunami. Things have got to the point where the best a reviewer can say about a personal narrative is—well, that it’s not like a memoir. “This is not a woe-is-me memoir of the sort so much in fashion these days,” the book critic of the Washington Post wrote recently in an admiring review of Kati Marton’s “Enemies of the People,” an account of how the journalist’s family suffered under Communist rule in Hungary. But, as Yagoda makes clear, confessional memoirs have been irresistible to both writers and readers for a very long time, and, pretty much from the beginning, people have been complaining about the shallowness, the opportunism, the lying, the betrayals, the narcissism. This raises the question of just why the current spate of autobiography feels somehow different, somehow “worse” than ever before—more narcissistic and more disturbing in its implications. And it may well be that the answer lies not with the genre—which has, in fact, remained fairly consistent in its aims and its structure for the past millennium and a half or so—but with something that has shifted, profoundly, in the way we think about our selves and our relation to the world around us.”


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