So far it looks like Portia is winning this bout with her new memoir UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS (Atria 2010) ranking consistently higher on the NYT bestseller list for the same number of weeks. But Ricky’s ME (Celebra 2010) is probably within a hip-shake though, especially if you factor in the Spanish-language edition. I’m sure I’m not alone in having an eye for Portia and goodness knows we need more smart, talented, beautiful lesbians on tv so I guess I expected her success. Beyond the lusting lesbians, there is another audience of those who struggle with eating disorders and the small bonus of being married to Ellen.
As for Ricky, hadn’t we heard enough already? Isn’t he over? Apparently not if the hordes of screaming fans at his Borders event at Columbus Circle are any indication. I never thought I’d see buff chelsea boys shoved out of the way by middle-aged moms but now I have and it was hilarious. And very exciting. That kind of energy in a bookstore still makes my heart race, even if most fans were drawn by what is in his jeans and not what is on the page.
Celebrity and sex appeal sells, no question, but what’s most compelling to me about both of these books is that they are not “coming-out” memoirs. Sure, they write about struggling with their sexuality and coming out, but these memoirs address family, spirituality, show business, eating disorders, charitable works and much more. They talk about their life story in all its many aspects. And that is what makes a good memoir and one that has a chance of being relevant beyond an hour on Oprah. Because, really, after the big reveal in People and the Advocate, what else is there really to say? Usually not enough to fill 300 pages. Exhibit A: OUT OF SYNC by Lance Bass (Simon Spotlight 2007).
Reading most coming out stories is a lot like reading about someone’s religious conversion—inspiring and enlightening in theory, dull and repetitive on the page. Brilliant writing can trump that of course, both in memoir and fiction, but brilliant writing isn’t generally the hallmark of celebrity memoirs. That said, I give these gay celebrities kudos for telling their own stories, in their own voices and in their own way, ghostwriters notwithstanding. After generally being eviscerated or misrepresented by the gossipmongers, they have the right to their say. And, I do believe it’s important to come out and be out, especially for those in the public eye. But, I’m hopeful we’ve moved beyond the coming out memoir and toward the compelling memoir.