The Memoir is Turning Unmemorable: An Analysis

By Michael Colglazier, Staff Writer

Last month, Jada Pinkett Smith released her long-awaited memoir Worthy. Preceded by a number of bombshells dropped by Smith, including the fact that she and her husband Will have been separated since 2016, Worthy was expected to be the talking point of the year. 

Except, it wasn’t.

Newswire photo courtesy of Griffin Brammer

Selling just over 21,000 copies in its first week, Worthy performed well below expectations, especially considering how big the name attached to it is. It is possible that the amount of stories Jada shared during promotion left possible readers thinking that they had heard everything she had to say. It could be possible that Pinkett Smith has fallen from grace in the public’s eye in recent years. It could be possible that readers are tired of celebrity memoirs, although this theory was seemingly proved false just a few days later.

Towards the end of October, Brittany Spears released her memoir The Woman in Me, which is proving to perform significantly better than Worthy. Selling 1.1 million copies in its first week, The Woman in Me has proven to be the phenomenon that Worthy strived to be. This begs the question: Are readers truly starting to be fed up with celebrity memoirs?

Celebrity memoirs seem to be an ever-growing empire. Pinkett Smith’s (former?) husband Will Smith’s memoir, Will, had a very successful release in 2021. Not only did it open very well, but it re-entered the bestseller list months after its publication after Smith made headlines for a, shall we say less than fortunate occurrence at the Oscars.

It may be easy to attribute Worthy’s low sales to Jada’s public image, but that may not be the case either. Comedian Amy Schumer’s 2016 foray into the memoir scene, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, managed to be No.1 on the US bestseller list, despite Schumer’s constant criticism. Although the book was review bombed upon release, it managed to tell a series of intimate and charming tales very successfully.

Schumer is not the only comedian to jump on the memoir train. Jerry Seinfeld’s Is This Anything?, Seth Rogen’s Yearbook and Jamie Foxx’s Act Like You Got Some Sense: And Other Things My Daughters Taught Me have all proved to be successful books. Child stars such as Josh Peck and Jenette McCurdy even joined in, with McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died making headlines for detailing the tragic shortcomings of being a Nickelodeon actor. 

The most successful of these celebrity memoirs prove to be the most honest and least self-indulgent — at least, as much as a book solely about one person written by that person can avoid being self-indulgent. Jamie Foxx writes about his shortcomings as a co-parent and focuses on the ever-changing relationships he has with his daughters. He shares his experiences, but never talks down to the reader as if he is better than them. In his book Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry writes about his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction throughout his entire life. Although his writing at times proves to be clunky and unfocused, the memoir as a whole reads as someone making peace with their imperfections and wanting to help people as best he can.

Will, although well received, feels as though its author is speaking from a position of authority. As if, despite his imperfections, he is somehow more enlightened than all of us. He does not write with the humility of Jamie Foxx, but rather with the cocky confidence of one of the biggest movie stars of all time.

This is likely the issue that Worthy faces. As big as the celebrity memoir fad has become, readers do not want to read a book by someone incredibly full of themselves. As this trend continues to grow, authors must remind themselves what readers want: an honest portrayal of someone in the public eye, not a description of how great a celebrity is.