Confession Culture

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
—Christopher Hitchens

Read the fine prince: Prince Harry, above with wife Meghan Markle, spills the royal tea in his memoir that has become the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time. (Shutterstock)

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Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and California gadabout, published his eagerly anticipated memoir, Spare, just a few months ago. It crushed bestseller charts. Plenty of juicy bits in those pages. Happily, many hundreds of equally provocative memoirs have entertained, shocked, and moved American readers over the years.

This has led inevitably to a robust memoir industry (featuring, as we’ll see in a moment, a popular memoir-vacay component). Legions of over-sharers and would-be authors have settled on an egoistic point of view: It’s all about me. (Most attention-grabbing title of the last year: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy.)

Celebrities have of course long insisted on spilling their guts in book form, even when a pamphlet might have been sufficient. Lately, however, it seems nearly everyone up and down the block has been persuaded they’ve got a book in them.

Well no, no they don’t. Or, to be more specific if no less cruel, everyone’s intimate life narrative is not book-worthy. Maybe just keep a journal. If you believe you absolutely must get it all out, by all means, have at it. Pass the chapters around among friends. But unless you’re that rare bird with an exceptional manuscript, don’t expect me (or a publisher) to devote time and money to your tale about recovery or survival or encounters with aliens.

So, why the growing popularity of this genre? It’s about commercial publishing’s boundless search for salable material, surely, but it is also about self-therapy. When it comes to memoirs, the fundamental animating point is that it affords individuals an opportunity to exhale, a way for them — mostly women, it turns out — to relive (and relieve) a part of their lives by committing it to a hard drive.

Writer Joyce Maynard (her 1998 memoir, At Home in the World, was a literary sensation), whose workshops are among the most prized among memoiristas, recently said on Facebook that she focuses on students “who have carried a costly and terrible burden of feeling prohibited from the simple, pure act of expressing who they are, and what happened that shaped their lives.” It’s principally a self-help-ish kind of enterprise, this. And it does no doubt have intrinsic merit. Larry Grobel, a prolific California-based author (You Show Me Yours is among his memoirs) wrote to me that “I taught memoir writing at UCLA and found that it helps students get in touch with their inner feelings.” Again: therapy.

With that in mind, I contacted Karen Karbo (Yeah, No. Not Happening), a writer who not long ago relocated from Oregon to the Mediterranean coast. “I’m sure more people are writing than reading memoirs,” she said in a message to me. “Maybe that is as it should be … but writing to make sense of your life is time well-spent.”

Well, then how about spending time — and cash — traveling to a remote location to study memoir writing with the pros? Destination workshops have grown into quite a thing. Karbo’s will take you to the lovely French village of Collioure, where she now resides. Maynard’s, which costs about $4,000 for a week and includes a slew of leisure activities, is set alongside picturesque Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

If you decide to attend a memoir retreat, how could I possibly fault you? You’re likely to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow students while studying craft, all of which you may one day choose to share in your own riveting (one hopes) memoir. Doesn’t mean I’ll want to read it, though.

In the March/April issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about independent coffee shops.

This article is featured in the May/June 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. never read the book by Harry (if he left the royal family who he is still related to I am sure Prince is a honorary title now). just like the royals for their pomp and ceremony which brings back memories of kid’s stories). if you dislike
    this kind of thing do no read it, talk about it or comment about it. do not make a living writing about it. I am still trying to figure out why this article was the first article I went too! guess it is the old pull of stories from childhood.

  2. I think Princess Diana would be ashamed of what Harry did by writing a book that trashed the people around him especially his own family. I am sure it is very difficult to grow up in an institution that has a fine line between personal and private. Everyone looks towards them in public to be perfectly dressed, behaved and professional all the time. They are human beings! The media is a disgrace for taking advantage of intruding on every moment in their lives. I fully believe that Princess Diana was used by a disgrace man who is now the King. His actions did disrupt his job within the institution. He was disgusting for cheating and taking no responsibility. His infidelity was no different of a shameful act then his brother. Especially one that crushed the beautiful spirit of a wonderful person like Diana. King Charles may have not caused Diana’s accident but his hands were partly dirty in her death. He took advantage of a very young, sweet immature woman who became extremely depressed. Harry still mourns her loss and has not yet fully dealt with this tragedy. This has turned him into an angry, resentful, depressive person, just like his wife. But it appears to me that Meghan is also taking advantage of using him for her personal monetary gain. Whether his words were lies or truths this kind of behavior should be dealt with by extensive therapy with and without the parties involved. “Queen” Camilla should never have been crowned, let alone Charles as king. Queen Elizabeth was wrong for not skipping a generation. Prince William was prepared and ready for the job. Behind every good man, there is a great woman. Princess Kate is that remarkable woman who did not come from royalty, but learned their customs for her job, the institution, which serves the people. She is very much like Diana. A dedicated, respectful woman of the people. I believe Harry is jealous of this but it does not matter what he thinks. What does matter is, are they doing there job and are they respectful of what the institution expects. Meghan could not handle the rules and customs. It had nothing to do with being an American or actor, it was a choice she made. Then she chose to profit from it.When that looked like it might make her look bad she played the prejudice card. The ignorant supported her. Harry, your mother felt the pain and shame of divorce from a cheater. But Diana believed in forgiveness and the purpose of the monarchy. She wanted you and your brother to be friends, supportive of one another and to work together to build a strong bond and better type of monarchy. Your wife destroyed this hope she had for you of friendship, support and a modern monarchy that could bond your relationships forever.

  3. Prince Harry should be Be King He has the most experience of being with people outside of Royalty. He is not a snob and can mingle with common People.and has very mature personality that has seen and mingled with both sides of society. And a good husband and Father.

  4. I feel sorry for Harry. I believe he is being misguided by Meghan. All in the interest of monetary gain.
    My guess is… in time ,he will go back home and she will move on.

  5. Charles had to get married & breed. Queen & Philip should have had Charles marry Camilla originally. Not making excuse for Charles’ behavior but he never wanted ti be with Diana. At 19 she was too young for a 32 year old man. Charles & Camilla are 2 peas in a pot, odd ducks. Tragedy in all this is Diana. Harry us just being used by the Minx!

  6. Harry seems to carry the burden of resentment and hate against a system which he perceives hurt & killed his mother..
    Prince Charles did marry a beautiful 18-19 year old girl and it appears he used her as an incubator. Princess Diana was treated shamefully, while Charles publicly engaged in his sordid disgusting affair with Camilla. Then he is “rewarded” by the Queen by being allowed to become King and his partner in this deed is crowned and called queen consort? Elizabeth should have skipped over him and made William the king.
    Is anyone surprised that Harry carries ill feelings and anger over a system that rewards death, infidelity, mental cruelty against a young girl who was in love and married a prince to be tossed aside after she presented her husband with 2 beautiful sons? Really? This is just a cruel joke with an illegitimate “king” and his consort with a crown on her head. Harry may someday be sorry he wrote the book but perhaps it was cathartic…. very tragic story.. but demonstrates royal hypocrisy at its finest.

  7. By and large I agree with Mr. Neuhaus that the number of confessional/tell-all books have been excessive, where such private information would mostly fall into a ‘less-is-more’ category. In the case of Prince Harry, it’s hard to say if his book is a good or bad thing. Really, only time will tell.

    His disdain for the Royal Family (other than the late Queen Elizabeth II) has been clear quite a while now, with he and his wife taking drastic steps they won’t be able to take back, no matter what they say or do if they were to ever change their minds.

    They’ve moved to a very expensive state in the U.S., which will require a lot of money. We don’t know how much money they’ve lost out on by going rogue as Royals, and will have to hustle with the rest of us to keep it coming in.

    Harry’s burned most of his bridges behind him, and felt he might as well write the book with nothing left to lose, but plenty to gain financially. I believe his irreconcilable differences with William were probably the last straw of any hesitation not to up to that point. None of us are in his shoes to judge, and the jury is still out on whether his book and its revelations were a mistake or not.

  8. It would have been better if the article had been written by someone who obviously did not have a bias attitude against Prince Harry. Calling him a California gadabout is a little over the edge.


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