I WAS IN the seventh grade when I first heard of Anne Frank.
Like most schools, ours included in our required reading the moving diary of the tragic teenager who lost her life at Bergen-Belsen.
Frank's account of her imprisonment is a fine example of autobiography: The exquisite simplicity of her words masks the profound nature of their significance. Anne's life, though brief, was important, and the hours spent immersed in her world aren't wasted.
Unfortunately, that can't be said about most of what passes for autobiography these days.
The shelves are filled with books that raise narcissism to an art form, with more navel-gazing than on the Florida Citrus Council. Today, with our short attention spans, they call them "memoirs" - and just about anybody with a keyboard and an inflated sense of his own self-importance can try to get into Oprah's Book Club.
The genre includes. . .
Books by Unexceptional Women Who've Deluded Themselves into Thinking That Their Every Thought Is Transcendental.
Elizabeth Gilbert owns this terrain, having written the iconic "I am woman, hear me bore" title of all time: "Eat Pray Love."
Not since Anais Nin started writing about the angst in her pelvis has one woman made such a splash with her midlife crisis, dragging us along on her journey to (alleged) self-discovery.
She feels unappreciated in her marriage, so files for divorce from a husband who still loves her. And then, to recover from the split, she dines in Italy, divines in India and ultimately ends up supine in Bali with a hot Brazilian.
I know that a lot of women found that life-affirming, but the only affirmation I came away with was that she did her ex a huge favor by dumping him.
Books by Misfits Who Need to Tell Us How Pathetic They Used to Be but Aren't Anymore (Wink-Wink).
I'm not even going to get into the whole "James Frey lied to Oprah" situation in which people write books that pretend to be fact-based about how screwed up they used to be.
I'll limit myself to the people who were authentically screwed up but found God or AA or Dr. Phil and now feel good enough to write explicit tell-alls where, for $25.95, they'll make us feel sane (or depressingly normal) by comparison.
Most of these confessions are by people with eating disorders, drinking problems, co-dependency issues or a combination of all three. One such tome is called "Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity," which was described by Publishers Weekly as a "deeply poignant, desperately sad account of a confused, directionless adolescent girl's free fall into self-abnegation." What they call self-abnegation, I call hooking up with whatever guy crosses her path and blaming it on her parents' divorce. The only thing "desperately sad" about this is that it got published in the first place. Note to Lindsay Lohan: It's already been done.
Books by Women Who Dare You to Call Them Sluts.
Not to be confused with the previous category. While people who have suffered from a disorder-of-the-month at least have the good grace to frame their lives as cautionary tales (even "Loose Girl" has an epiphany in the end), these are by exhibitionists who like to push the envelope of what is socially acceptable, making us feel ashamed for even thinking of criticizing them.
The hands-down (or wherever) queen of the genre is Chelsea Handler, the late-night talk-show host and comedian who hit the New York Times best-seller list with her memoirs "My Horizontal Life," "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" and "Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang." From the titles, it's clear that the series started by Handler is less "Little House" and more "House of Ill Repute."
And she feels absolutely no shame in laying bare her soul about her many relationships with men, drugs and alcohol.
Unlike poor "Loose Girl," Handler is proud of her accomplishments in the sack (and on the floor, under the eaves, astride a drain pipe, in the grain silo, and so forth). While literature has always had its bad girls like Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy, at least they could write.
NO DOUBT you've noticed that I've focused almost exclusively on women.
That's not a coincidence. While men do the memoir thing, too, like Jack Kerouac giving us tales from the road (and St. Augustine and Augusten Burroughs providing interesting confessions), women seem to have cornered the market on these paginated therapy sessions.
They also have an inflated sense of how interesting memories can be.
Maybe it's time for a little amnesia.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.