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Celebrity Books – How Many Are Really Worth Buying?

Over the past few years, it seems like every other celebrity (and I am using this term loosely) has come out with a memoir. Sometimes, it’s someone who I don’t think half of the country has even heard of, and I find myself at Barnes & Noble thinking, Really? Some agent was able to sell the story of a Bachelor reject?

When I was an intern at a big entertainment magazine, one of my duties was to open the dozens of packages that came every week carrying book galleys. About 92 percent were immediately pushed aside, with a select few making it to the editor’s desk. A rather large percentage of these books were by celebrity authors, and a few were big names – I was able to read one of Chelsea Handler’s books before it was released as well as Carol Burnett’s. But I also saw some books from names so obscure, I was left speechless at the fact that they had a book deal.

It did make for some good gift-giving. The books were eventually placed on the giveaway table, and I had fun sending them to friends as surprise gifts. My childhood friend, who had just moved to San Francisco, especially enjoyed her copy of Real Housewives of New York City (then) star Jill Zarin’s Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Family, Real Love. It was quite possibly the most random gift I’ve ever given anyone.

For me, the name has to be pretty big for me to pay attention. I don’t like the fact that publishing houses are giving anyone with some name recognition book deals, especially when the books are written by ghostwriters. If, for instance, Brad Pitt wrote a book, I still wouldn’t pick it up; yes, the name’s big, but I’m really not that interested in what he might have to say (sorry, Brad, nothing personal!). I love Tina Fey and think she’s extremely funny, so I knew I’d read her book. If Tina was a serious actress and wrote a book, I don’t necessarily know if I’d make the purchase; I read so many non-fiction books about not-super-hilarious topics, so I think what really drew me to Bossypants was the fact that it was going to be funny. Obviously, being able to make me laugh isn’t the only reason why I would get a book, but when it comes to celebrities, it just might be. The over-saturated market really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I think you have to be really talented to make me give you my hard-earned money (or seek you out at the library).

What about you? What makes you pick up a celebrity book? Am I being too hard on the publishing companies, who obviously need to make money any way they can in this market? What was the last great celeb book you read? Who do you think should write one? I would read the crap out of an Amy Poehler book – you hear that, book agents?

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

49 replies on “Celebrity Books – How Many Are Really Worth Buying?”

Am I being too hard on the publishing companies, who obviously need to make money any way they can in this market?

NOPE, not at all. I abhor the celebrity books and am so glad you wrote on this topic. They’re so ridiculous!  Clearly these people are not writers. They all have ghostwriters. Anytime I see the phrase “WRITTEN BY <BIG NAME CELEBRITY> and <actual writer” I get so mad. That’s mostly because I am a writer and would like to get published someday (if I ever actually finished a damn story, grr). It just boggles my mind that the “Great American Novel” is something that I am sure gets overlooked all the time because its from a no-name author in lieu of a famous (or not-so-famous in regards to reality tv) person.

Plus, the books still suck. I thumbed through that Jersey Shore girl’s book once and just winced (her real name is Nicole and she’s from Chile – forget her ‘stage’ name. lol I suck at reality tv info).

Craig Ferguson and Hugh Laurie have both written good novels — well, I thought Ferguson’s (Between the Bridge and the River) was excellent, and Laurie’s (The Gun Seller) just good, but mainly because it had a million characters to keep straight. But I liked both a lot. Ferguson’s memoir American on Purpose is also excellent.

Leonard Cohen has a book of poems that my husband bought recently but I haven’t read it yet.

I’d like to read Helen Mirren’s autobiography, In the Frame, but mostly just because I love her.

And seconding the mention of Anthony Bourdain. I haven’t read any of the old crime novels he put out, but I love his other stuff.

I’m not even sure it counts as a celebrity book, but I loved “The Opposite of Fate” by Amy Tan – I think it’s just because I accidentally share a lot of similar familial themes as her, but I spent half the book going “YES EXACTLY” and near the end she tears the publishing industry a new one (and talks about accusations that her work is racist, which is something I really wanted to see her answer).

I really enjoyed the books by: Mindy Kaling, Anthony Bourdain

I kind of enjoyed: Tina Fey (it didn’t feel “real” enough to be really enjoyed), Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris (David Sedaris too, but he’s not really a “celebrity” because he is famous for his actual writing, while Amy is famous for her acting)

I did not enjoy: Chelsea Handler

I would like to read: Michelle Obama, Daniel Radcliffe (I’m fascinated and saddened by his admission that he was an alcoholic during the filming of Harry Potter), Patrick Stewart, Joss Whedon, Amy Poehler

I had never really read any celebrity books but I did just finish Mindy Kaling’s a couple days ago. I’d read a few excerpts online and laughed so got it from the library. I don’t even watch The Office. Wasn’t too bad – some funny stuff, some cringe-worthy stuff. Made me put a hold on Tina Fey’s book.

I would read the shit out of a Joss Whedon book. But I think I’d rather he just kept making awesome stuff (Dr Horrible 2 please!).

I feel like I should know who Chelsea Handler is because I see her name all over but I don’t know what she does…

I’m incredibly fussy when it comes to celebrity books.  I want to be entertained by people I would like to have a real life conversation with.  Therefore, no Kardashians, no Real Housewives, etc.

I can totally vouch for the following: Rob Lowe’s audiobook.  I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if it wasn’t his sexy voice talking to me while I worked out.  However, he’s honest, funny, talks about addiction and depression, politics, I enjoyed it.

Valerie Bertinelli’s book.  I have never given her a second glance, but saw her on a late night Canadian talk show and she was surprisingly engaging and had some super liberal thoughts on the Iraq War, etc.  I was surprised by how charming I found her so bought her book (which she was promoting).  I totally enjoyed it and found some of her honesty refreshing.  She talks about how her costar took all the flak for being a drug addict, yet she was young (19), cute and going on coke binges with Eddie Van Halen.

Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland I also listened to on audio on a road trip and thought it was hilarious.  I’m a big fan of his though and loved that he narrated it.

Kitchen Confidential by Bourdain was fantastic, but I’m a survivor of the restaurant industry.  The added bonus is that I think his voice is dead sexy.

 

Kitchen Confidential is fantastic, and I say that as someone whose maximum restaurant-employee-time was six weeks. Dude can write. Correct me if I’m wrong, though – I’d never heard of him before KC, so my impression was that it was his writing that got him his TV spots, not the other way around.

Do it!  I can’t recommend them enough after rediscovering them a couple of years ago.  I usually only listen to them during one of two activities, long road trips and working out.  I don’t know if you work out, but when you first start listening to them I swear, it totally refreshes your workout (but then, I’m by no means a person who works out a lot).  I think Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential was the first one I listened to on the treadmill and loved it.  I swore to myself that I would only listen to it while working out and some mornings, it was the only reason I got on the treadmill.

Basically, I listen to two types of books – comedy / autobiographies and books I would love to read, but know that I would never ever get through them in book form before they sat on my bedside table gathering a thick skin of dust before eventually just falling behind said table where I won’t discover them again for another year.  It’s how I listened to Freakenomics.

Also, most libraries now have it on their websites so you can rent audiobooks and ebooks directly from their site for free.  They just disappear off of your device in two (or whatever) weeks and no worries about late fees.

Well, See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die was basically his personal diary taking place over a few years. I think a year and some change leading up to, and then some time after his best friend Joe Cole was murdered and him barely escaping the home invasion. It’s a hard read, because it’s so personal and so raw. I realized very quickly that there was a distinct difference between the persona from the spoken word tours and who he really is as a person.

Black Coffee Blues is kind of similar in that it includes journals, poetry and prose. It’s not quite as jarring as the other one that I’ve read, but it’s not what I would call “happier”. It’s well worth the read, though.

The only cleberty book I have ever read is If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell. I loved it, but a few things:

A) I adore Bruce Campbell
B) I grew up in the same general neck of the woods as he did, and my parents were friends of friends of one of the actors in the first Evil Dead and were at the premier and stuff.
C) I bought it at a book signing.

I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise.

ETA: Not because I hate on celebrity books, I’m just more of a fiction junkie in my reading habits.

Autolycus, King of Thieves from the Hercules and Xena TV shows was probably one of his more widely recognizable roles. He is something of a cult movie hero for playing Ash in the Evil Dead movies. Basically he’s managed to make a career out of being a hammy B grade scifi/horror actor.

ETA: He was Sam on Burn Notice too.

I don’t see the problem with celebrity “memoirs” because I feel like it would mean I should have a problem with vanity publishers as well. The only celebrity memoir I’ve read that I can remember off the top of my head is Barbara Walter’s Audition. It was an interesting read, though I think she promoted it well, but I’m not usually into them.

Personally, I’ll only get a celebrity book if it’s:

a) really practical (like, say a self-help book or a cookbook or something)

or b) the author really has something interesting to say (like stories from their childhood or travels in cool places or meeting cool people)

Other than that, no, I won’t be interested.

Someone gave the Mister Carrie Fisher’s book, which I ended up reading. It started out strong, but then it seemed partway through like the editor just gave up on it? It got a little rough toward the end.

I only read nonfiction and biographies very rarely as it is, so most celebrity memoirs are not really on my radar. I do have an autographed copy of Bill Bradley’s Time Present, Time Past, which was a bear to get through even though I just love him. And Michael Crichton’s Travels is surprisingly awesome and hilarious. There’s a bit where he’s talking to a cactus… anyway, I don’t know if either of them count as REAL celebrities, though.

I’m so very not interested in celebrity-books. As a bitter wannabe I want books to be created because of original stories and fascinating life-adventures, not because your name will do well at the counter.
And because I presume that 98% is done by the ghost writer(s) my leg would feel a bit pulled as well.

I liked Bossypants, but while I learned facts about her life, I didn’t feel like I learned anything about Tiny Fey as a person. It was all persona: funny, yes, enjoyable, yes, but not insightful.

I loved Michael Palin’s autobiographies – they’re basically his contemporary diaries, with notes, which is a bit of a brave choice, but makes for a gentle, interesting read.

You’re right; I didn’t walk away from the book feeling like I really knew Tina, but I didn’t think about that until now. I guess I just appreciated the fact that it was funny the whole way through, and not just some half-assed attempt at humor.

I agree – the only way I am reading a celebrity book is if it’s entertainment value is sky high. I did thoroughly enjoy both Bossypants and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? 

I had to put aside Bill Clinton’s book (the title is escaping me right now) and my mom had to do the same. It was just poorly written and dull. I have a book by Barack Obama that I actually have not read, that was published before he took office. I should get to that one of these days…

And I agree with@onlyslightlytrampy : MObama bring it on! I would read a book of her grocery lists. (Actually that would be really interesting…)

If I remember correctly, didn’t President Clinton go into great detail on almost everything? Like, he literally told you what day and what time he met with a person? Because if so, that would definitely make for a tedious read. I know my mom read the book, but I don’t remember if we ever talked about it.

For me, it’s worth it when I know they wrote most or all of their own book, and they are interesting to begin with. I am in a bit of a glass house here, since I work in books and even though my imprint doesn’t do celeb books, the corporate entity does and I get intangible benefits (higher profit for one means subsidies for another) from some of these books.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that celeb books are not replacing other people’s work in most cases — if anything they make it possible for things like literary fiction to get published. If a literary novel doesn’t earn out its advance (you can’t eat praise), the celebrity book might pay for it and bring in more business to subsidize the loss. I don’t like it, but it’s better than letting the more highbrow imprints fail.

That is a really interesting perspective. I took some courses on publishing and some of my instructors touched on these issues, but we didn’t have time to delve any deeper. Wouldn’t it be nice if only high quality literature was published? And we could all ride to work on flying unicorns? What makes money supports the projects that are highly valued, but least profitable. Money is important – It is a sad fact of capitalism.

I like the funny ones, like Tina Fey’s and Mindy Kaling’s. (I haven’t read them yet, but I did download them.) I have Rob Lowe’s (audio) book but only because it was free. And I know she’s just an Internet celebrity but I freakin’ LOVED Jenny Lawson’s book.

Other than the funny ones, I’m usually only interested if it’s a memoir and it’s something I can relate to, like living with depression or being a single mom. However, that’s only if it’s a celebrity I like. Like if Jenny McCarthy wrote a book about being a single mom, I’d pass.

Jenny Lawson’s book was the first book-book I’ve bought in ages!  (I was at an airport, already had a kindle full of potential reads, saw her book and did not hesitate for a second!) It was fan-freaking-tastic!!!

I’ll probably also buy her audiobook if she does one, but only if she reads it herself.

Alexa Stevenson’s memoir Half-Baked is an absolutely beautiful, heartbreaking, hilarious read. Then again though, it’s about a specific time in her life, not so much an autobiography, and she’s a blogger, not a ‘celebrity’ in the ‘giant book advance’ sense of the word.

I need to really want to KNOW MORE about the person writing the book.  Like you said: Brad Pitt?  Meh.  But there are so many other fascinating people out there.  And my love of David Sedaris has morphed into a love of all self-narrated audiobooks.  It’s like I’m having a one-side conversation with someone fascinating and famous.

I loved:  Tina Fey Bossy Pants, Craig Ferguson American on Purpose, Mindy Kaling Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I liked: Jane Lynch Happy Accidents but didn’t love it.

Rolled my eyes at: Andre Agassi (my book club picked it!)

No interest in: ANY “Real Housewife”, ANY Kardashian, ANY shock jock, Sean Connery (Dude’s a dick, no interest)

And I, too, would be all the fuck over an Amy Poehler memoir!!!  Also: Matt Damon and Patrick Stewart should write about their moms. And Michelle Obama (Hello?!)

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