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The Best and Worst of Celebrity Books

December 27, 2013
English: James Franco at the Austin Film Festi...

When a famous actor tries to become a serious author, things can go very, very wrong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Struggling writers often get frustrated when celebrities who aren’t known for their writing abilities get book deals.  Lindsay Lohan is publishing a tell-all, and I’ve never heard about Lindsay Lohan’s awesome writing abilities.  The Lindsay Lohan announcement was last week, so by the time you read this, another celebrity will have announced a book deal or maybe another celebrity book whose deal had been announced months ago will come out.

When it comes to celebrity books, I’m not the expert because I don’t read celebrity books, and besides, I’m not famous and I don’t have a book deal and that can cloud my judgment. I might not read celebrity books, but I read about celebrity books, so instead of deciding which celebrity books are better than others, I’m ranking the kinds of celebrity books from best to worst.  Again, I haven’t read most of the books, but I can judge the categories.

THE CELEBRITY MEMOIR

This is potentially the best type of celebrity book.  Celebrities are cool people who hang out with other cool people, so a good celebrity memoir can tell a bunch of stories about cool famous people.  If the stories are sleazy, that’s even better.  Maybe the stories will even be true, but that doesn’t really matter.  When Lindsay Lohan publishes her tell-all, it will probably have a bunch of sleazy anecdotes in it.  If not, a lot of potential readers will be disappointed.

Not every celebrity memoir has to be a sleazy tell-all, though.  Tina Fay is actually a writer, so Bossypants was interesting without being sleazy.  I’m sure there are other good ones out there.  I would have read Kevin Smith’s memoir, but he titled it Tough Shit, and putting profanity in a book title is a sign of desperation.  Even I didn’t do it with my e-books (maybe I should have).  No celebrity should ever put profanity in a book title.  Leave that to the struggling author that nobody has ever heard of.

THE CELEBRITY EXPERT

Bill O’Reilly is writing history books.  I think Bill O’Reilly taught history, but I know a few teachers who have taught history for years, and they’ve never written one history book.  Now Bill O’Reilly has written several of them: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, and now Killing Jesus.  I’d say Bill O’Reilly is making a “killing” off all of these books, but then I’d have to punch myself in the face.

Fans of Bill O’Reilly like the book.  I watch his show occasionally, but I won’t buy his books, even if they’re not about politics (and even if he didn’t really write them).  I’m pretty sure the other author did most of the work (speculation on my part, please don’t sue me) and that O’Reilly is involved for name recognition.  I’m not sure why , as a reader, I should trust Bill O’Reilly’s account of Jesus over anybody else’s, but at least he’s getting people to read about Jesus.

Maybe Bill O’Reilly really does know what he’s talking about, but I automatically don’t trust him because he’s a celebrity (and a blowhard), and I don’t trust celebrities (even if I agree with them, and agreeing with them usually makes me rethink my position).  Since I don’t trust celebrities, I can’t trust a “celebrity as expert” book.

CELEBRITY AS SERIOUS AUTHOR

I should admire James Franco.  He has a monotone voice.  I have a monotone voice.  James Franco is an example of what a guy with a monotone voice can accomplish (if he’s really handsome and enough people proclaim that he can act).  But James Franco as a “serious author” might be a bridge too far.

I haven’t read his latest Actors Anonymous, but I read a few short stories from Palo Alto. I hesitate criticizing authors because I know I have enough flaws in my own writing.  But still, James Franco could… have… used an editor.  I’m sure (or I hope) that most college students who write something the quality of Palo Alto would be encouraged to try harder next time.  I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t get book deals and lots of praise.  I don’t trust celebrities who try to become serious authors because nobody is going to tell a celebrity that his/her serious work needs a lot of work.  Well, somebody might tell a celebrity that, but then that somebody may end up unemployed.

I’m not a fan of the celebrity as a “serious author,” but there is one type of celebrity author that is even worse.

THE CELEBRITY CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR

I don’t know why celebrities want to write children’s books.  I’m no psychologist, so I won’t even try to come up with a theory.  It’s just kind of weird, when I see any of Jamie Lee Curtis’s children’s books, I think of the scene in Trading Places where she took off her shirt (I was in high school at the time, and we didn’t have the internet yet, so it left an impression).  Whenever I see one of Madonna’s children’s books (the illustrations are pretty good), I think of her sex book.  Maybe I’m old fashioned, but once you’ve done a nude shot in a popular movie or written a sex book, maybe you shouldn’t write children’s books.  If Madonna wrote a YA dystopian novel, maybe I’d check that out.

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Struggling authors can’t stand celebrity books because we see them as taking up a publishing spot that a lesser known unpublished author could have had.  I know it doesn’t really work like that.  I’m pretty sure anybody who buys a celebrity book wouldn’t have otherwise bought one of my e-books.  Celebrity books have nothing to do with my success or failure as a writer.  I know that. but I still get just a little annoyed when a celebrity book deal is announced.

16 Comments
  1. I agree with what you have said.
    Celebrities writing is another money spinner for the celebrity and publishing house, not that I do not want them to make money.
    Their stories are not usually artfully told, just how they got rich and richer and then blah blah blah. If you have read one celebrity story you have most likely read them all. (I am sure there may be a couple of exceptions.)
    I would like to see more space in bookshops for emerging writers, I do not buy the churned out rubbish that takes up the space now.

  2. bdallmann permalink

    Regarding O’Reilly’s books, there’s really no lack of books about Jesus, nor is there a lack of people who want to read them. The trouble is that not many people are actually qualified to write about the man, least of all a Fox News host.

  3. I could not agree with you more. I purposefully have not read any of James Franco’s books because I knew that they were sadly ridiculous.

  4. I’m about to read James Franco’s book. I’m intensely hopeful and skeptical at the same time, but I love him and would love to love his Actors Anonymous.

  5. There’s one exception: Authors who become so famous they become celebrities. It’ll be kinda hard for them not to write celebrity books 😉 That said, some authors’ writing declines so much once they become celebrities they have to start publishing under assumed names…

  6. I like James Franco, I think I’m going to read one of his books. I also want to read Tina Feys book, Bossy Pants! I love her! I love that she is a writer as well as an actress. I’m looking forward to reading that book.

  7. Celebrity books don’t really bother me since I just see it as part of their fame and they probably just throw the money they get from it on the pile. I don’t see them as real writers, of course, although I’ve never read any of their books (which would you rather read, Snookie’s book or Lindsey Lohan’s?)

    • I’d rather read a Snookie book if Snookie really wrote it without a ghost author. Maybe I’m wrong, but she seems to have a sense of humor. I’m not sure Lindsay Lohan has a sense of humor.

  8. When it comes to celebrity books, a tell-all is what I would go for, because I’m not looking for great writing, but great stories (Rupert Everett, Piers Morgan’s first book The Insider). I don’t think I would read a work of fiction written by a celebrity as I would imagine it had been ghost written!

    • Completely agree about the ghost writing of celebrity books, but It must be horrible to ghost write something that you worked hard on and then have people trash it just because it was ‘written’ by a celeb

  9. First it was all celebrities who have TV shows have to become singers. Now they are writing books. What is next?

  10. Hey check out Hill Harper, the short guy in CSI new york. He’s written some books that have sold millions. Here’s his link on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hill-Harper/e/B001JPCH88

  11. You may have noticed that many celebrity books come out when there is a “hiatus”/loss of interest in the person’s regular work (or when you can’t figure out what that work was to begin with).

  12. 100% agree about Madonna. I am still scarred by her Sex book. I can see it on the coffee table in our old condo where my college roommate set it in its spiral bound glory 20 yrs ago. James Franco is so odd on every level, I don’t think I’d bother to TRY to read him. I tried to read Steve Martin’s “Shopgirl,” but I gave up.

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