It’s not often you hear someone refer to tales of incest, poverty, and pedophilia as a “listen-to-my-pain sweepstakes.” But Don Graham, a professor of English at the University of Texas and a past president of the Texas Institute of Letters, has issues with the new introduction to Mary Karr’s recently reissued book The Liars’ Club and the subgenre she helped launch. The first time you read Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, you said you “read it with considerable interest.” What did you like about it then?

Don Graham: What I liked about it the first time round was that it was a woman’s voice dealing with working-class people in East Texas, or SE Gulf Coast perhaps is better. I liked some of the atmospherics of the town “Leechfield” (whatever town it is), and I liked the father’s stories told at the Liars’ Club. I thought they were very funny and beautifully told. I still do. In fact, I included one such story in my anthology of Lone Star Literature: From the Red River to the Rio Grande (W. W. Norton, 2003). Now the book has been reissued with a new introduction. What has changed that makes the book, as you say in your column, “a pretty long slog”?

DG: On the first reading I found the book quite long, and then, as now, I grew tired of the perky voice. It’s just my opinion; I don’t like to listen to Katie Couric either. Why do you think people write confessional memoirs?

DG: I think they write them to get even, make money, and perhaps undergo some authentic therapeutic/cathartic experience. What do you dislike the most about this subgenre?

DG: I dislike the emphasis on childhood and the woes thereof. Now I know that many people have unhappy childhoods, but I much prefer to read biographies and autobiographies of adults who have accomplished something (whether good or bad) in their lives. I dislike reading about passive suffering unless it’s a saint’s life. The books you listed in this subgenre deal with some heavy stuff: incest, pedophiles, poverty. Since these problems exist in society, don’t these books act as a vehicle to bring awareness? Or are you saying that the authors are simply complaining and capitalizing on their experience?

DG: I think that there’s plenty of TV and radio coverage of the “heavy stuff”—incest, pedophiles, poverty, etc.—so that any American who is uninformed about such problems is brain-dead. I don’t think these books are meant to “bring awareness.” I do think that many of the authors are in fact “complaining and capitalizing on their experience.” I don’t deny their sufferings are real; after all, we live in an age of therapy unprecedented in history, and maybe much of it is for the good. I do think that Tony Soprano [James Gandolfini] might benefit from some breakthrough moments in his ongoing sessions with Jennifer Melfi [Lorraine Bracco]; I do. You said that one of your biggest qualms with confessional memoirs, and specifically Karr’s book, was simply this: “it’s kiddie porn.” What did you mean?

DG: Kiddie porn: Well, I think a certain kind of reader gets a kick out of reading the two detailed accounts of sexual assault in Karr’s book. And I can imagine some pedophile somewhere getting another kick out of reading the same material. What genre of literature do you prefer to read?

DG: I like British fiction, biography, and autobiography—also great poetry. Right now I am reading bios of Stalin and Anne Bradstreet (simultaneously), and I have just finished Ron Hansen’s Hitler’s Niece. I am also rereading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (a quotation from which, incidentally, appears as an epigraph in one of the sections of The Liars’ Club). Have you ever met Mary Karr in person? If so, what is she like?

DG: I met Mary Karr in Houston the year she won the Carr P. Collins prize from the Texas Institute of Letters, just for a second, to congratulate her. She seemed very personable. I’m sure I would like her in person. My review is not about Mary Karr; it’s about her book and what I think of it. What do you think of “creative nonfiction”? Is it valid to get creative with facts?

DG: I think that creative nonfiction is an excuse for not having to fact-check nonfiction. I think the term is gimmicky. I think the term is something of a crock. As for getting creative with the facts, better ask Jayson Blair, Dan Rather, and a host of other creative nonfiction mavens on that question.