Dissecting the Gimmick by Brooke Wonders from issue 299.4

I’m fascinated by gimmick memoirs—what’s sometimes referred to as “schtick” lit. You know the kind of book I’m talking about: Julie & Julia, Nickel and Dimed, everything by Kevin Roose, or—at essay length—David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” I only recently discovered the endless catalog of A. J. Jacobs, whose schtick-y memoirs are each subtitled “One Man’s Humble Quest to [  ],” where the blank contains everything from “follow the Bible as literally as possible” to “become the smartest person in the world.” The best of these—and of this litany, I’d count Wallace’s essay as a particular success—transcend gimmick and rise to the status of art object. It’s a rocky and treacherous climb when working within such a maligned form, though. Perhaps it’s this difficulty, which arises out of the very pandering popularity of the schtick, that appeals to me.

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