By Hannah McGill

One might have expected the era of social media to put paid to the book-length memoir as a viable literary form.

After all, who needs the whole story of some celebrity’s teenage crushes and early clashes with authority figures, when you can just start a fight about Brexit with them on Twitter, or head to Instagram for a good look at their bathroom? Do we need to excavate who people truly are, when who people truly are is unavoidably bloody everywhere, along with pictures of their lunch?

And yet the memoir continues to boom, in various forms. There’s the watercooler tell-all by a bona fide mega-celeb, exemplified par excellence by Demi Moore’s Inside Out (Fourth Estate) and Elton John’s Me (Macmillan).

There’s the personal tale that unstoppably resonates, like Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (Canongate), Chitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting (Saraband) or Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt (Picador). Insider accounts of scandals, such as Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill (Hachette) and Jodie Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said (Bloomsbury), slow the perpetual rolling news cycle and let us absorb the detail of the stories that have sped by us in headline form. And then there’s that new-ish genre wherein a well-known woman shares a mix of life advice and startling insights about her genitalia: if that’s your thing, then Ali Wong’s Dear Girls (Canongate) has all the too-much-information you need.

Christmas is a particularly big time for the memoir, perhaps because however hard someone might be to buy for, there’s a good chance they have a favoured sportsman who can be found glowering nobly from the cover of a ghostwritten opus called Me or The Real Story or The Real Story Of Me. (The bulk of this type of memoir gets funneled directly to charity shops and given as gifts again the following year by slightly poorer people; this cycle goes on forever, with the consequence that a total of zero people have ever actually read them.)

But I don’t need a festive excuse. I will read a memoir at the drop of a hat, and then I will read Dropping Hats: A Memoir by whoever dropped the hat. I’ve wondered whether my increasing zeal for tell-alls is partly due to social media – that fiction has lost its lustre because Zuckerberg and co have forcibly addicted me to the intimate insight. I’ve also wondered if I’ve simply read so many novels that very few tricks tried in novels surprise me, whereas real people are always doing stuff you wouldn’t believe.

Whatever the draw, though, I will read a memoir by almost anyone. Have you written a memoir? I will probably read it. My interest flies strangely free of any interest I may or may not have the subject or their life’s work. Here is a partial list of people whose memoirs I have read in recent months: Andre Agassi, tennis player; Brett Anderson, musician; Florence Nightingale, hygiene pioneer; Melanie Brown, Spice Girl; John Douglas, FBI criminal profiler; Jonathan Franzen, writer; Michael J Fox, actor; Emily Lloyd, actress no-one remembers; Leah Remini, actress and disgruntled ex-Scientologist; Elton John, musician; Demi Moore, actress; Louis Theroux, er, Louis Theroux.

Why do I want to know things about these people? What’s the appeal? Obviously, it’s legitimised snooping – but of a very controlled kind. You’re not exactly getting an unguarded glimpse of someone’s real self when they have stage-managed every word on to the page. And yet a lot can be inadvertently revealed by the way that someone manages their stage. You can develop a particular sort of appalled admiration for a celebrity who has examined his or her own life in punishing detail and come away with the complete certainty that other people were responsible for every questionable decision, destructive act, marital indiscretion or trashed hotel room.

Sometimes you can almost hear the voice of a therapist, securing his or her hundred quid an hour with consoling affirmations. But what choice did you have, really, than to purchase that quantity of cocaine? Why did your best friend expect you to be strong enough not to sleep with her husband? On the page, as in life, it’s infinitely more enlightening and appealing for someone to honestly reflect on their own flaws as well as airing their resentments. One of the reasons that Elton John’s book Me has been so celebrated is that Sir Elton is so bracingly innocent of either self-pity or excessive, mawkish self-blame. He relates his own misadventures and bad behaviour – shouting at his mum, smashing up hotel rooms, accidentally getting married to a woman whilst gay – with a wry, breezy pragmatism that I found deeply affecting. This despite the fact that I have never given a hoot about Elton John. I’m not opposed, just ignorant – I’ve made it through life thus far armed only with the vague sense that there’s the Princess Diana one, the one my friend Daniel was named after, and I’m Still Standing. I may be the only reader who was drawn more to Me by knowledge of its ghost writer, the music critic Alexis Petridis, than of its subject.

It could be that we can respond more freely, more meaningfully, to memoirs of people to whom we’re not already attached. I bought my partner several memoirs of people I knew he liked, before he gently informed me, over a pristine edition of Bruce Springsteen’s My Life In a Proletarian Singlet, or whatever it was called, that he doesn’t like to delve into the backstories or personal lives of his heroes. I was obviously distraught on Bruce Springsteen’s behalf; but when I weigh the weird list of people whose memoirs I’ve recently devoured, against the existence of memoirs by both Debbie Harry and Prince that I have not prioritised, I realise I also favour the life stories of people to whom I’m not actually devoted. It’s no big thing to me if Louis Theroux lets me down, but I’m avoiding Harry’s Face It (HarperCollins) and Prince’s The Beautiful Ones (Century) in case genuinely heroic figures in my life let me down by being dull or nasty. I mean no slight, incidentally, to Gotta Get Theroux This (MacMillan), which is every bit as good as its title is bad.

Upshot? Read a memoir by literally anyone this Christmas. And since Last Christmas will be stuck in your head whatever you do, you may as well succumb to Andrew Ridgely’s Wham! George and Me (Michael Joseph). Lenny Henry’s Who Am I, Again? (Faber) is another hot title for survivors of the 1980s, dealing not only with Henry’s rise to fame but also with his complex negotiation of his racial identity in a distinctly unreconstructed Britain.

If you prefer to be enveloped in someone’s aura without too much gory emotional insight, there’s always the more abstract approach: Joni Mitchell’s Morning Glory on the Vine (Canongate) gives us gorgeous sketches and handwritten lyrics, and space to make the rest of the story up ourselves. And then there’s the option of eschewing the call of the new to delve into memoir history: it’s surely the perfect moment to revisit a classic of the genre, the late Clive James’s gloriously funny Unreliable Memoirs (Picador). Or just admit the time has come, and make this the Christmas that From Nowhere: My Story, by Jamie Vardy (Ebury Press) finally gets cracked.