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The Memoir Pandemic
Peter Funt

I figured that nine months after the pandemic began, sheltered and cooped up Americans would be creating a baby boom. It never happened. In California, for example, births in 2021 are expected to be about 50,000 fewer than in 2020.

There was, however, a boom in books.

According to Publishers Marketplace, which tracks book deals, memoir acquisitions were up about 9 percent in 2020. Among the first to land contracts were actors Michael J. Fox, Billy Dee Williams and Hayley Mills. Soon, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor and retired Nascar driver Bill Lester had sold their stories, as had country music superstar Dolly Parton. Willie Nelson got deals for two memoirs. As the pandemic wore on, former National Football League coach Bill Cowher signed a memoir deal, as did actors Stanley Tucci and Julianna Margulies.

Alone at my kitchen table day after day, I decided to give it a try. I found the notion of putting my life into a book so totally amusing that I titled it “Self-Amused.” Then, as I pushed ahead I discovered there was too much to cover, so I subtitled it, “A Tell-Some Memoir.” Voila!

My first draft didn’t get far with family and friends who found it to be “in the weeds,” which is a publishing term meaning “boring.” Apparently few people care how I rate breakfast cereals, the fact that at age 12 I decided my favorite color was green rather than navy blue, or that after spending thousands on golf lessons I still have a wicked slice.

I read a quote from a publishing “guru” — loosely defined as someone who is not very good at writing but loves to talk about books — that you should stick to things you know best. For me, that’s the TV series “The Office,” and my own show. Realizing that several books have already been written about Michael Scott and Dunder Mifflin, I settled on “Candid Camera.”

As luck would have it, I’ve done some pretty incredible things, like hanging from a 10-foot ceiling to create the impression of an “upside down room,” to putting airline passengers through an X-ray machine and then getting sued and having to defend myself in Los Angeles Superior Court while on Court TV. I also hit the actress Cybill Shepherd in the face with a birthday cake, and sat next to Clint Eastwood on his private jet as he cuddled a baby pig.

I was fortunate to make a good living doing “Candid Camera,” but managed to lose most of my money with oddball business ventures. I printed daily news on restaurant placemats, sold dried weeds to florists, and spent five years delivering newspapers while being chased by the mob.

“Self-Amused” is now on sale, yet I’m not urging you to buy it, which confirms my lack of business skill. I’m reminded that when Abbie Hoffman wrote his memoir back in 1971 the title was, “Steal This Book.” Please don’t do that.

Here’s my offer: If you, too, wrote a memoir during the pandemic, I’ll buy yours if you buy mine. You go first.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker