If the writers from one hundred years ago could see the outpouring of celebrity memoirs, cookbooks, and self-help guides gracing bookstore shelves today, I suspect they would be horrified. These people are authors? Really? Once in a while, the snob in me has to stop and cringe. With another book from Tori Spelling coming in April (this one about party planning), Gwyneth Paltrow recently in the media insisting her cookbook wasn’t ghostwritten, and that abominable novel from the Kardashians last November, I’m feeling grumpy about celebrity authors these days.
Tina Fey? Yes. Ellen DeGeneres? By all means. And no way am I going to argue with Betty White’s book deal. The comedians are legit in my book. It’s when the actors, or worse, reality stars, take their turns as novelists that gets me the most irritated. There’s no way they’d be getting book deals without their platform, and for all the talented aspiring authors who will never get an agent, that’s dreadfully unfair. That’s the way it works though, especially when it comes to the entertainment industry.
Where I take real offense are books like Ethan Hawke’s Ash Wednesday, Paulina Porizkova’s A Model Summer, and James Franco’s short story collection, Palo Alto. I like these celebrities, just not when they’re posing as authors. Here’s one of Franco’s opening lines: “I was driving Fred home from art class. It was a Wednesday night at about ten. Fred said, ‘That model was pretty hot tonight.’ ” Porizkova writes: “I have straight brown hair cut in a bob, pale green eyes, and am as tall and flat-chested as the guys in my ninth-grade class. That I got selected for the high-fashion world of models not only confused my classmates, but also made me suspect I was the target of some elaborate joke.” And from Hawke: “I was staring at myself through the window into the driver’s-side mirror; I do that all the time. I’ll stare into anything that reflects. That’s not a flattering quality, and I wish I didn’t do it, but I do. I’m vain as all hell.”
Now I ask you: Do these writers sound like they’re writing characters, or are they writing as themselves? We don’t know them personally, so of course we can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet that all three of them talk just like that in their normal lives. I’m all for a writer writing in their natural voice, but here the problem is that the characters are caricatures of our public image of these authors. It’s just too much navel-gazing for my taste.
On a more positive note, some celebrities have produced books that made a real impact on society, and those are the ones I admire and commend. Actually, the best celebrity authors are the ones who donate their proceeds to charity (Like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth). Then I’m convinced they’re publishing for the right reasons (yep, getting self-righteous here, can’t help myself). Other books that shed light on difficult topics include Michael J. Fox’s Lucky Man, Brooke Shields’s Down Came the Rain and Jenny McCarthy’s Louder Than Words.
There’s a subject and a readership for celebrity books, and that’s okay by me. What worries me are the teenagers who skip To Kill a Mockingbird to read the Kardashian novel. If they grow up thinking that’s literature, we’re all in trouble.