-In exciting personal-professional news, there's a cover!
Ms. Isenberg is a professor of American history at Louisiana State University. Her books include a well-regarded biography of Aaron Burr. Her own class background goes unmentioned in “White Trash.” This study does not require the emotional accelerant of memoir.And it's unclear, there, whether the implication is that Isenberg is or is not from the background she writes about. Which is sort of the point.
(I now want to read both.)
I was also reminded of Jennifer Weiner's complaint about Princeton not appreciating her enough. There, though, I wasn't entirely convinced - I wasn't clear, that is, exactly what the complaint was, and that it wasn't just a humblebrag about having serious-person credentials and being a massively successful novelist. Put another way: It's the sort of complaint I could imagine sympathizing with - the silly and stereotypically-feminine gets derided! - but... she never quite convinces the reader (or at least, this reader) that she was doing something courageous by attending her own college reunion and having to confess to merely being the famous author of popular fiction.
(Now Weiner I have read, don't remember which, only that this was in a book-having Philadelphia coffee shop.)
With Kim's piece, though, there's something else going on. I suspect that her willingness to call out the marketing of her book relates to that book being, as she notes, a bestseller. A cynical response would be that the book succeeded at least in part because it was marketed as a memoir, but that hardly negates her main point, which is that the book became something different - and opened her as an author up to all kinds of irritating criticism - once it got framed as it did.
What's so interesting here is that this isn't a case - as we're so used to hearing about - of a woman selling her secrets or "identity" for like $5 (or $0), so that a corporation might profit. Instead, there's a different sort of loss: She became an expert in something really impressive (North friggin' Korea!) and sells books, yes, but in her capacity as - in these critics' view - "a memoirist treading on journalistic turf, a Korean schoolteacher who sold out her students for a quick buck." This wasn't - again, according to her take on the matter - a case of a woman getting criticized for choosing a conventionally feminine approach to writing. It was a case of... nothing a woman writes wouldn't sell that much better if it were made personal.
The seriousness credentials are always there, hovering just out of reach. If it feels that way to a journalist who went undercover in North Korea, the hope for those of us who merely wrote dissertations on long-dead French writers, while stuffing our faces with flan, is maybe not that great. Which makes me want to say, so screw seriousness, but it's not as simple as that.