Columns > Published on June 6th, 2014

5 Dreadful Memoirs You Never Have to Read

What makes a memoir truly and abysmally bad? Leonard Pinth-Garnell, the host of SNL’s series of sketches dedicated to “Bad Red Chinese Ballet,” “Bad Conceptual Theater,” and other memorably dreadful works of performance art, offered only evaluations, not analyses. “Stunningly bad.” “Exquisitely awful.” Pinth-G was inevitably on target — the art he reviewed was nothing if not bad! bad! bad! Pinning down the reasons is a tougher task. Here are a few tentative explanations:

  • The risibility of the author. If a sizeable portion of the reading public finds a memoirist to be a horse’s ass or a joke’s butt (or hopefully both), chances are great that the memoir s/he writes will be, in a word, bad. One is unlikely to convince an already skeptical if not downright hostile public that his or her life is worthy of chronicling if readers approach the book with snickers and hockers already in place. (See First Step 2 Forever and Confessions of an Heiress, below.)
  • A violent disparity between the memoir’s account and reality. This category is best illustrated by the infamous My Way of Life by Joan Crawford (a book regretfully not covered here). One scarcely needs to read even a paragraph of this compendium of helpful household hints and beauty secrets from wire hanger-wielding Mommie Dearest to know that the contents are unintentionally hilarious and very, very bad.
  • The “Nobody Gives a Shit” memoir. There is, incredibly, a readership for all five of the bad memoirs described here. Apparently enough people wanted to know about the real Kathie Lee Gifford and her little boy, Cody, for instance, that Hyperion, Disney’s now moribund publishing company, agreed to publish the wretched Listen to My Heart. Had Max Baer, Jr. written a similar memoir (Look at My Rope Belt?), however, it’s not likely to have generated nearly as much interest. Who cares to know the truth behind the legend of Jethro Bodine? (For another example, see Forever Liesl, below.)

But enough of theory! Let’s wallow in some breathtakingly bad autobiographies!

'First Step 2 Forever: My Story' by Justin Bieber

Before proceeding, I must acknowledge that ripping into this book is like shooting adorable puppies in a barrel. That said, give me a second to load the pistol. Kiss your inviting rump farewell, little doggie.

“One day I noticed the world was full of beautiful girls, many of whom looked just like me.” Okay, I admit it: I appended the second clause. But come on, you all thought it! The first part, the part Justin “wrote,” appears as a call-out in the chapter titled “My Favorite Girl.” The chapter does not, however, name Justin’s favorite girl. I call bullshit.

All right, the call may be self-evident. Is self-evident. Whatever.

First Step 2 Forever isn’t overly wordy. Justin’s first memoir — he has “written” another one in the meantime — is mostly comprised of photographs. Many of these pics served to bring out the incipient pedophile in me; the sixteen-year-old Justin defines the terms androgyny and statutory rape. For further proof of the first word’s applicability, see lesbianswholooklikejustinbieber. But one can scarcely fault babyface Justin for relying on imagery rather than verbiage. The target market for this book has barely learned to read.

Kidding aside (for a brief moment), I must acknowledge that Justin has worked his beautiful ass off for most of his young life. He puts forth more effort and energy in an average concert than I’ve expended in five-plus decades on the planet. Still, to return to the puppies/barrel image, he’s such an appealingly easy target that I can’t help myself. Pow! Pow! Pow!

Mind you, First Step 2 Forever isn’t just one uninterrupted zip-zip-zip-I’m-a-superstar litany of successes! Justin’s life has not been the nonstop spaceflight from Canada to Usher to international superstardom you might imagine. No, there’s grim despair as well. The breaking of his foot while onstage in the middle of a concert is certainly dramatic. But it pales next to his young life’s most horrific event: He flunked his driver’s test! This gloomy episode serves as the drug addiction segment in Justin’s answer to Behind the Music. Luckily he rebounds — at least in First Step 2 Forever. I imagine the same dynamic nothing stops me attitude governs Justin’s second memoir, Just Getting Started, the title of which is more than a tad redundant. A two-volume set titled First Step 2 Just Getting Started would have made more literary sense.

The Bieb’s recent arrest for driving without a license (and, oh yeah, DUI) will certainly be covered in his third autobiography, no doubt planned for his 21st birthday. In Justin’s defense, I’ll admit that if any kid has earned the right to a law-breaking weekend bender it’s Justin Bieber. But I do hope he’ll have sprouted a substantial amount of body hair in the interim.

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'Forever Liesl' by Charmian Carr

It may be unfair of me to lump this autobiography into the “Nobody Gives a Shit” category because, truth be told, the beach house I share with a group of fellow gay guys once had three copies of Forever Liesl in circulation. We actually fought over possession of this book, even with multiple copies floating around. Yes, the book is that bad.

What? You’re seriously asking Who is Charmian Carr and what is a Liesl? Okay, non-gay boys and girls (gay or otherwise): It’s time for Lesson 1 in a course I’m calling Girlfriend! A Queeny Way of Knowledge. Listen up, kids! Charmian Carr is the actress who appeared as Captain von Trapp’s eldest daughter, Liesl, in the Oscar-winning camp spectacle known as Julie Andrews Stars in the Sound of Music.

Even those of you who knew who Charmian Carr is but haven’t read the book — I know, I know, it’s nearly impossible to believe that such persons exist — will be overwhelmed by the minute level of detail this slender volume provides about the production of Robert Wise’s it’s-so-ghastly-it’s-great musical. “After we finished the music festival scenes, we were back to daytime filming and shot the scene at the riding school with just the children and Max and Herr Zeller. That was the day that Kymmie was knocked off the stage by Debbie.” Wow. “As Kurt hits his high note in ‘So Long, Farewell,’ grinning at his father as he prances off to bed, listen closely to his voice. That is my little sister, Darleen.” Gee! I didn’t know that.

But nothing – nothing – prepares you for the moment in Carr’s chronicle when she reveals… um, let me introduce the revelation by saying that several of us at the beach literally spat out mouthfuls of martinis at the same exact point in the book… she informs the reader that she went on to become Michael Jackson’s interior decorator. I’m sorry to spoil the big revelation, folks, but you must admit that I saved you from reading the fucking thing.

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'Listen to My Heart' by Kathie Lee and Cody Gifford

The boundlessly cheery Kathie Lee Gifford, hot off the success of I Can’t Believe I Said That!, her first memoir, teamed up with her all-but-infant child Cody to pen this unstructured series of vignettes about the aforementioned Cody’s cuteness and all the hilarious and poignant things the child said and did during the first few years of his mortal existence. Warning: according to the Surgeon General, mere contact with this book causes instantaneous diabetes.

Cody provides the adorability, Kathie Lee the prose. Cody, now 24 and a magna cum laude graduate of USC, must have either an armored hide or a profoundly troubled psyche, given the humiliation he suffers at the hands and keyboard of his mother. There is such a thing as being too revealing. Kathie Lee spares her son — and her readers — nothing. Cody’s farts are recorded for posterity. I am not making this up. Cody loves poop jokes. What four-year-old doesn’t? But Kathie Lee seems to be under the impression that Cody is unique in his fondness for fecal comedy. She is indefatigably happy and eager to share each and every instance of Cody’s overchronicled verbal and bodily juvenalia.

My favorite chapter in this wretched book is all about the day that former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, showed up at the house Kathie Lee shared with her husband, Frank, and baby, Cassidy, and little frolicking Cody. It was a disaster! First the new couches didn’t arrive on time! But they’d already moved the old ones out of the living room! Then the Secret Service showed up! Then the Fords arrived along with the new couches! Then Kathie Lee nearly offered the founder of the Betty Ford Clinic a cocktail! Then Cody farted! Then he ran to the bathroom and shat all over himself! Then he made a memorable re-entrance to the party, covered in shit and screaming, “I had diarrhea!” Oh, boy!  

I ask you, Kathie Lee: was all of this really necessary?

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'Confessions of an Heiress' by Paris Hilton

I felt icky just picking up this book. I felt smug and superior when I read it. That’s my review, in a nutshell.

At least Justin Bieber does something. Paris Hilton, like her fellow Parisites, is a worthless tick feasting off the blood of a terminally bored public. She has nothing to write about since her life has been as empty as her head. So she provides advice like this: “Rule Number One: Heiresses aren’t needy. If an heiress feels insecure, she should go shopping.” Duh! I scarcely need Paris Hilton to provide this advice, and neither do the tens of millions of Americans for whom the shopping mall is a shining beacon in a vast and restless sea of misery.

“Rule Number Two: an heiress should never be too serious. Being too serious is very dull and is a sign you have no imagination or personality.” Frankly, I’ve never seen any evidence that Paris herself has any imagination or personality worth describing, an impression her book only magnifies.

There’s a shot in Rosemary’s Baby in which Mia Farrow, having finally figured out that Ruth Gordon et. al. are in fact witches with sinister plans for the eponymous infant (though she doesn’t yet know that said fetus is the spawn of Satan), simply utters the words, “Unspeakable. Unspeakable.” Having read the chapter in Confessions of an Heiress titled, “Tinkerbell Hilton’s Doggie Diary: a Brief Excerpt” — by Tinkerbell Hilton, of course — I can only repeat Mia’s simple observation. “I know how to be a diva,” the dog declares. Unspeakable. There’s nothing more to be said.

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'Bitch!: The Autobiography of Lady Lawford' by Lady Lawford

She was Peter Lawford’s mother, and a nastier, more repellent creature never lived. “I don’t know why Peter associates himself with that Rat Pack crowd. That dried-up piece of spaghetti — Sinatra — but I do like his singing — he’s the villain of the piece. He loathes me and I must say the feeling is mutual…. I remember Peter and Pat (Patricia Kennedy Lawford) hugging and kissing that nigger boy — Sammy Davis — and calling him ‘Chickie’ or something like that.”

She can’t abide the Kennedys. “Remember when Jacqueline Kennedy went to France? DeGaulle winked at her and told her, ‘You could do very well here.’ You don’t think that he was referring to French streetwalking, do you?”

I'll spare you the minute details of Lady Lawford's disgust about sex acts — except the part about how she used to rub raw steaks on her crotch to convince her husband that she was menstruating and thereby avoided having to sleep with him.

“Mahatma Gandhi – oh, I loathe him! Near the end he would hardly speak a word to me. And once his son came to visit me in my drawing room. I refused to recognize him. I am not an unkind woman, but I must draw the line sometime somewhere.”

To paraphrase what Bette Davis once said of Joan Crawford, “My mother always told me only to speak good of the dead. Lady Lawford is dead. Good.”

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Anyone else read any of these atrocities? Which is your... favorite?

About the author

Ed Sikov is the author of 7 books about films and filmmakers, including On Sunset Boulevard:; The Life and Times of Billy Wilder; Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers; and Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.

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