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Can you measure the truth of a memoir?

Author Ben Yagoda sets up a "how-to" guide for determining a memoir's "truthy aspects."

By Randy Dotinga / August 5, 2011

Ben Yagoda says he's got problems with memoirs that do too much score settling. "My red flags and Spidey sense start tingling" says Yagoda, when the author of a memoir is a kind of wronged hero.

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In theory, it shouldn't be that hard to write an engaging memoir. Just remember the events of your utterly fascinating life, convert them into a thoughtful narrative and wait for a spot at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Bang, boom, done!

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Not so fast, hot shot. Memoirs may be a hugely popular genre, but they're a minefield from the moment you put fingers to keyboard. Does the Dalai Lama actually think you're the most honorable person he ever met? Did you really give Eleanor Roosevelt a wedgie? And quite frankly, that alien abduction during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field sounds a little far-fetched.

Still, your whoppers might make it into a published memoir and not be discovered. Your work might have other problems too, from overwhelming I'm-awesome-ness to suspiciously perfect recall of remarks that are older than Helen Mirren.

Now there's a way to judge whether your memoir, or anyone else's, makes the grade. Ben Yagoda, a University of Delaware professor and author of "Memoir: A History," has just come out with a "half-facetious, half-serious" way to measure a memoir's "truthy aspects" – based on criteria such as fact-checking, self-criticism and writing style.

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