Dispatches | October 17, 2006

I’ve noticed only recently that several nonfiction writers who I admire and read whenever I see their work in print have made a publishing career out of being crazy.  Not wild and crazy, but mental-crazy.  They seem to have every disorder in the DSM:  anorexia, exercise bulimia, post-partum depression, obsessive compulsion, manic depression, sex addiction, Munchausen, and a number of manias, including megalo, clepto and obviously graph mania (they just can’t stop writing about their problems).  Perhaps they are simply riding the recovery memoir wave by exaggerating the severity of their madness-let’s hope so.  I would hate to think these writers are really that sick.  

As a writer whose literary fiction reaches a small audience, I’ve resisted the temptation of cultivating a mental illness for the sake of broader publication.  Still I’ve wondered what malady I could make my own.  I like to shop, which has recently been added to the DSM as a very real addiction.  Unfortunately, a number of confessions about compulsive spending have been written.  And the behavior is hardly unique; it’s called being an American.  I have a thing about germy, dirty bathrooms, but this doesn’t seem to be a subject that could sustain a book-length manuscript.  Flourishes of excessive deep cleaning maybe…Hmmm, I’ll have to keep working on it.. 

The popularity of memoirs unfortunately has put some very good writers in the position of one-upsmanship.  It is no longer enough to have the worst Irish childhood ever.  Today, you better make damn sure that the misery has leaked into adulthood and manifested itself not only in vicious parent blaming but also self-mutilation, drug dependency and paranoia.  Alas for the de Tocquevilles and Montaignes of today, wisdom and mental health will never sell.