Is there anything more dispiriting at this time of year than the dreaded 'celebrity' memoir – the publishing industry's annual two-fingered salute to all us starving mid-list authors?
Last week I managed to weave my way through a heaving Waterstones, eventually arriving at one of those vast tables groaning with needy 'personalities'; there they all were, present and correct in their neat hierarchical piles (the higher the advance the bigger the stack).
This year's roll call of vaguely familiar faces has been much the same as any other year. The garish covers all feature the usual cut-and-paste mug shots of bland variety artists in various stages of eyebrow-raised, what-am-I-like hilarity (I'm gurning back at you Michael McIntyre and Bob Mortimer); or worse, the feel-my-pain gaze of a 'star' yearning to share their 'truth'.
So desperate are publishers for the next sleb blockbuster, they will throw money at any old media lackey in the hope that it sticks; if the celeb in question has survived a messy divorce or life threatening illness so much the better. Editors will over-inflate even the mildest upset to convince gullible gift-seekers to part with their twenty quid.
Name recognition, however vague, is prized beyond all else and it's how giant conglomerates justify paying six figure advances for what is in the majority of cases ghost-written piffle. No wonder legitimate authors feel peeved when a publisher tosses them a couple of grand's worth of leftovers for two years hard graft.
Back in July we heard news of Hollywood D-lister Harold Windsor's rumoured $20 million advance for what is certain to be the thinnest, meanest memoir in history. This must have seemed like good news for the more highbrow limelight-lubber. If someone of Harold's ilk could command such an eye-watering advance, imagine what the likes of Alison Hammond (daytime presenter known for her deafening laugh) and Christine McGuinness ('model and a mum of three') might receive. Indeed the former's remarkable ability to cackle on cue landed her a three-book deal with Penguin – let's hope the last laugh isn't on them.
In the blurb for her chunky memoir 'You've Got to Laugh' (see what they did there) Hammond gives it to us straight 'Hiya Babes' she beams 'here's where you can read all about my life: my loves, my losses and a little bit of gossip.' And if that doesn’t whet your appetite for tawdry tittle-tattle how about some life lessons from Coleen Nolan, a presenter who hosts something called Loose Women, which I'm assured isn’t what I think it is. In Live. Laugh. Love: Lessons I've Learned, cuddly old Colleen encourages us to 'curl up with a cuppa or a glass of wine' and join her for 'a cosy night in.' Well, that's my Christmas sorted.
How can respectable publishers hold their heads up high knowing that so much of their annual budget is being wasted on literary tat? They wouldn't do it if it didn't sell but we, the readers, should stop indulging them. It's patronising for publishers to reduce the nation's reading tastes to such vapid tomes.
In 2014 Charlie Redmayne, UK chief executive of HarperCollins, revealed he had cut back on buying up personalities because non-fiction celebrity titles proved risky when publishers felt pressurised to pay huge advances on titles that could turn out to be unprofitable with a short shelf life. 'We’re moving away from big celebrity hit-and-miss stuff,' he said.
But it seems publishers have since lost their nerve and are once again falling back on what they hope will be easy money in straightened times. The sad truth is that most of these dense doorstoppers will be languishing on the shelves of Oxfam by the New Year; that or clogging up landfill. And, frankly, the sheer volume of them is a crime against trees. If Ms Thumberg were serious about saving the environment, she'd be out there picketing publishing houses. Anything to stem the seasonal tide of hot air.