Suffering loves company

by on Mar.04, 2010, under General, Rant

All of a sudden, there was a whole new section in Waterstones. A new type of book. It had obviously cut a limb off the bloated sci-fi and fantasy section and took it for its own. The new genre had staked its claim, it was here to stay.

Waterstones called it PAINFUL LIVES

Now, for all I know this genre of books could have been there for a decade, but it must have been steadily growing because it’s got its own section now, and seems loom over you when you wander through the store. After a bit of research online it seems these tales are better known as MISERY MEMOIRS. The story is typically the life of an abused child, and an extensive, detailed account of her suffering and then ultimately redemption! Much pain, then a happy ending!

They’re all true stories, (or so the back text tells us) and it’s heartening to know the child grows and finds an escape. But it all just feels so seedy….

The other thing is that the entire catalogue *looks* the same. An indistinct photo of a lonely child, pastel colours on white, and always, Always … the purple or peach Hand Written font – ‘How Could She?’, ‘Why Don’t They Love Me?’, or ‘What Chance Did She Have?’ For all intents and purposes, it looks from a distance like a romance novel. Mrs Bloggs, sitting on the Northern line, obviously doesn’t want her fellow passengers to know she’s reading about a child getting systematically beaten by her own mother…. and is utterly enthralled by it.

And let’s be frank, this line of work is aimed directly at the female market – look at the packaging. What real purpose do these books serve? Is it a genuine concern for the plight of the child, or is it the gruesome details? Truth or fiction, the liberation at the end is to make the reader feel like they’re not a complete sleazebag – they’re reading this book for the uplifting conclusion, right? Right?

I’ve read a lot of true crime, and there’s obviously a lot of grim material in there, and I’ll admit it’s compelling reading. But it’s at least matter of fact, and isn’t designed to play with your emotions.

I guess this is my main scowl on these Memoirs – the feel bad/feel good direction and dubious ‘clothing’ these titles.

‘Oh that’s terrible…. oh, that’s appalling!… Go on…..’


3 Comments for this entry

  • Jared Earle

    “Munchausen’s by Proxy” is a genre now?

  • MattGreen

    This reminds me of a review of an album by Linkin Park spin-off group on Amazon UK

    In the ‘cons’ section (which is hysterical reading):

    – Throughout the whole album I got the impression that Mike didn’t really have any dramatic-enough life experiences to draw lyrical material from.

    Now, the scientist in me wants to quantify what the minimum dramatic life experiences are to be taken seriously as a ‘dope wordsmith’. Equally how painful does your life have to be for your book to get into this section, imagine the rejection letters:

    “Sorry madam, whilst a touching story, in our opinion you just didn’t get beaten savagely enough as a child. Please consider resubmitting your manuscript should anything terrible happen to you in the future.”

  • Dave C

    I have not read any of the MM genre. The ‘Cosmic Trigger’ series by Robert Anton Wilson contains its fair share of Pain, but Mr Wilson seems to chosen the path of hope over despair.

    I wonder if our propensity for voyeurism is an offshoot of our humanity. It seems that there is a fine line between empathy and compassion of the one hand and voyeuristic enjoyment of other peoples misery and misfortune on the other.

    In the end one either chooses to see the glass as half empty or half full.
    In the Blue Cliff Record is a koan which concerns Baso Doitsu. Baso was big and physically very strong, a man of great stature. Once when Baso was ill, the monk who took care of the temple came to visit and asked him, “How have you been? Are you well . . . or not?” And Baso said, “Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha.”

    The Sun-faced Buddha is supposed to live for one thousand eight hundred years. And the Moon-faced Buddha lives only one day and one night. So, when I am sick, I am like the Moon-faced Buddha. When I am healthy, I am like the Sun-faced Buddha. But neither the Sun-faced Buddha nor the Moon-faced Buddha has any special meaning. Whether I am ill or healthy, I am still practicing zazen. There is no difference. Even though I am in bed, I am Buddha. So, don’t worry about my health.

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