Memoirs have been around in one form or another from pre-literate days to the present-day online blogs and personal tell-all websites. The book that stands out in my mind as the beginning of the latest surge in popularity of this genre would be Angela's Ashes: a Memoir by Frank McCourt (1996.) Despite, or because of, his grim and brutal childhood, McCourt's memoir was widely read and it was beautifully written.
Other popular and literate memoirs written in the last decade that come to mind are: Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters' First Hundred Years by Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delaney; The Liar's Club by Mary Karr and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars. But then the inspired or merely perspired, the depressed, addicted, talented or talentless all took pen to paper to confess to an avid reading public.
Whether the memoirist is telling his stories over a campfire in a cave or huddled over the warm glow of a computer screen, telling our own stories and learning other people's stories is an age-old tradition. In recent years, so many journal writing groups have formed that the unwritten memory barely existed. For a while it seemed as though publishers were literally grabbing random people off the street and sticking a microphone in their faces to dictate their story to a ghostwriter. And of course, every celebrity seems to have penned his/her story, no matter how thin a book that might make.
Rick Bragg (All Over But the Shouting) tells about writing memoirs in this issue of The Writer magazine
Frank McCourt writes about memoirs in this issue of Writers' Digest magazine. And in another issue of the same magazine, there is more advice on the subject.
Good, bad or indifferent, memoirs remail a popular genre.