Memoirs are fairly popular.
Yet, some say that memoirs are too exploitative, too narcissistic. But that is precisely why they are popular. Memoirs that don’t share enough aren’t interesting. Who would want to read a memoir that leaves out all the personal details? It’s those personal details that give the reader a new insight into someone else’s life. It’s what makes memoirs worthwhile, and so popular. If Cormac McCarthy wrote a memoir about going a to convenience store, but told what happened, it’d be a boring story that would tell the reader nothing new. But if he explained how that experience changed him personally, or that it inspired a part of No Country For Old Men (or something), then that story would suddenly have some resonance.
In this way, selfsploitation, as I will call it, is completely necessary in writing a successful memoir. Famsploitation, on the other hand, is a trickier matter.
Sometimes the author’s family is crucial to the story they’re telling. But sometimes a memoir can be to revealing, in a way that the author might be okay with but the author’s family might not. But sometimes these revealing details are necessary for the author’s story. Clearly this is not a simple matter. Probably the easiest solution would be for the author to ask his family if they’re okay with what he/she’s writing. But what if the family says no? Or what if a family member being written about is deceased? Should the author still write the story anyway?
It’s not an easy question to answer. But, if I had to, I’d say yes, but try to make as much about yourself (and as little about that family member) as possible. They have a right to not have personal details about them revealed, but the author, too, has a right to reveal personal details about themselves. The best compromise would be to reveal only as much about that family member as necessary to tell the story.
It is a tough question, so my personal solution for it (for my memoir), is to side step the issue completely, and write only about myself (and some interactions with strangers that facilitate my arc and who are given fake names for the sake of their privacy and because I have forgotten their actual names).
But it’s really best to be as accurate as possible. If you can’t write abut your family, write about yourself. And why not? Everything is copy, of course. Everything people write usually comes from some sort of real life experience. So why not make it as real as possible? Use yourself instead of a John Doe character. I think there’s is always truth in writing, and, as well, writing is always trying to impart some truths on the reader that they might not know. Something about the world, about people, about life. Why not impart that truth in the most truthful way possible? Without any sort of artificial elements? That’s what a memoir does. That’s why they’re so popular.