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johnkarr
January 10th, 2006, 03:39 PM
So, you had to have seen this by now in one form or another:

Frey Exposed (http://www.slushpile.net/index.php/2006/01/10/frey-expose/)

I think it's a godsmack to the high and mighty of the publishing / reporting industry who believe themselves above the vetting process.

Even the smug Miss Snark ate a bit of crow on it (related to the Ouch! thread).

Banger
January 11th, 2006, 11:25 AM
If ya can't trust Oprah, whom can you trust?!?

hmm... Miss Snark? Never saw that website before. Let's see:

She refers to herself as "Miss Snark."

STRIKE ONE!!!

She refers to people who comment on her blog as "Snarklings."

STRIKE TWO!!!

She refers to herself in the THIRD PERSON.

STEEE-RIKE THREE!!!

ACK! am I being snarky? Damn you, Miss Snark!

Seeing things like this make me question Foucault's proclamation that the author is dead. As long as people keep buying books like A Million Little Pieces and Sarah (the latter by JT Leroy, who apparently was created out of whole cloth; see the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/09/books/09book.html) article and the excellent New York Magazine (http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/) article for more), the author remains alive and well, even if he or she isn't real :p

I haven't read either work (I did read Leroy's NY Times article about Euro Disney (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/travel/tmagazine/25DISNEY.html?ex=1137128400&en=5825d7da33322c62&ei=5070), which was nothing to write home about *badum-CHING!*), but I did read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra, the veracity of which has also been questioned. I wrote about it in my livejournal (http://www.livejournal.com/users/banger7/20887.html) a few years ago and summed it up as follows:


Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, the truth makes the story, as this story is interesting, but loses much of its impact as just a work of fiction.

Books are marketed products. A so-so novel can become much more interesting if it is packaged as being factually true. I'm guessing that the publishers didn't know the truth but didn't bother looking into whether what they were being told was true. Call it wishful thinking. These books are not journalism, so I think that Miss Snark's claim that publishers should be held to the same standards as newspapers is off the mark. Instead, it's simply a matter of sowing what one reaps. If you prefer to believe that the person with whom you've been having phone conversations is a transgendered teenage hooker from West Virginia and not a 40-year old woman from Brooklyn because the former will sell more books, then you have to live with what happens when people find out that it's the latter.

As for those who are now defending people like Frey and Leroy, I think that it is one of two reactions that result when the cat is let out of the bag: people either become very angry for being fooled, or defend the work "on its own merits" because they don't want to admit being fooled. In their own way, each camp wants to kill the author ;)

It's news stories like these that make me suspicious of other celebrity authors, such as John Twelve Hawks (http://www.sffworld.com/mul/146p0.html), he who "lives off the grid." The first I had ever heard of JTH was in an article in USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2005-06-27-traveler_x.htm) that dealt much more with the author than the actual work. I'm not saying that JTH isn't who he says he is, but it just seems strange when a publisher uses an author's reclusiveness as an advertising hook. "HEY EVERYBODY! READ THIS BOOK BY THIS GUY WHO REALLY, REALLY DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW WHO HE IS!"

KatG
January 11th, 2006, 12:34 PM
It's a memoir. Unless somebody decides to sue for defamation, or something like that, the vetting that Random House's lawyers did is sufficient. And it has nothing to do with fiction, even autobiographical fiction -- it's a different market. Movies routinely change details of non-fiction anyway, so it's unlikely to effect the movie production. And memoirs have nothing to do with journalism, though many memoirists are journalists. It's hardly a debacle, especially as the guy is now going to write fiction. It does mean he loses some street cred, but like the gangsta rappers who are exposed not to have been as bad a bunch of criminals as they claim, it's probably not going to matter much.

Let's look at another best-selling memoirist, Shirley McClaine, who came to prominance writing about her New Age experiences with mediums and channelers and her beliefs about her reincarnated lives. Nobody asked her to prove it. The memoir is one person's interpretation of their life and events in their life, which may be quite different from how other people view their life. If they get facts wrong, nobody's going to nail them for it. It's always been that way with memoirs.

johnkarr
January 11th, 2006, 01:46 PM
I disagree. Dude said he spent like 90 days in the pokie hanging out with the cons and it was more like three hours -- hardly the same. Hardly a memory malfunction either.

Smoking Gun said, in effect, instead of crack head Criminal bad ass, he looks more like a drunk frat-boy.

This has shaken a lot of folks, but judging from the quote I've pasted below, probably not the publisher. Think Oprah likes being had? I doubt it.

You want to write fiction? ... have the balls to call it fiction and break through the walls the way the rest of us have to. Don't dress your crap up like it's true when it isn't even close.

Publisher's Marketplace:

Frey: Some Facts

Consumers posting on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club message board indicate that Random House is providing refunds to buyers of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES who call their customer service line to complain in the wake of the unanswered charges made by The Smoking Gun earlier this week. One correspondent posts: "Tell them you wanted fact not fiction.... They are very nice and will tell you how to return the book for a full refund..."

James Frey will appear on the Larry King Show tonight, though a spokesperson indicates to the AP that he "would not be interviewed for the entire hour-long program."

Agent Lynn Nesbit comments to the NY Observer, "This book will come and go, but the ripple effect could be much bigger if it causes Oprah to say, 'I don't want to get into this again,' This would be incredibly damaging for the book industry." The Observer adds, "If Ms. Winfrey were to turn against Mr. Frey, A Million Little Pieces could well become the Enron of the memoir boom."

Doubleday has offered more extensive comments in this statement: "Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence. By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided 'A Million Little Pieces' was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.

"Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers."

pcarney
January 11th, 2006, 03:47 PM
Looks like Random House decided to give refunds-
http://us.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/books/01/11/arts.frey.reut/index.html

KatG
January 11th, 2006, 11:05 PM
I didn't mean I approved of what he did, just that there won't probably be any legal repercussions -- unless the police department that held him decides they've been libeled, but you would expect them to have done something by now if that was a concern. And though RH is smart to do refunds, I'm not sure how much impact it will have at this point. The incident may change the way that publishers do business over memoirs, but it's not really a publishing debacle of any sort.

Kreator
January 12th, 2006, 07:19 AM
One thing to learn from this is to not take every word (or book) you read as the truth. I wonder how many lies or half truths there are in the average autobiography?

Hereford Eye
January 12th, 2006, 08:09 AM
In my never ending quest for self improvement, can someone please explain to me what difference it makes if he did lie about the circumstances of his life? Does he get extra points for being absolutely accurate or extra points for making it so interesting that it moved Oprah?
Is that why people read autobiographies, to discover the truth? Isn't a memoir a history and aren't histories the winners' version of what happened?
Am I the only one who reads to learn what I can from whatever I've picked up? I'm reading John Keegan's [i]Intelligence in War. Is that the truth or is that the truth as Keegan understands or wants it to be? Does it matter? Can't I learn something about the value of intelligence just by reading what Keegan thinks that value is?

pcarney
January 12th, 2006, 09:58 AM
In my never ending quest for self improvement, can someone please explain to me what difference it makes if he did lie about the circumstances of his life?
It makes a difference (to me), if he presents his story as 100% true, and it turns out to be BS. But then, I've never liked being lied to. If you're throwing something out there as autobiographical, you owe it to the reader to tell the truth - or at least your version of the truth (that is, your take on what happened). But to make up events changes the book from autobiographical to 'semi-autobiographical' or, simply put, fiction.

Banger
January 12th, 2006, 11:24 AM
Is that why people read autobiographies, to discover the truth? Isn't a memoir a history and aren't histories the winners' version of what happened?

There is a difference between a history book and a memoir.

As Germaine de StaŽl said, histories are useful for teaching the values of nations and peoples, but not individuals. This is because histories are great at covering the big things, like wars and stuff, but not so good at covering all the complexities and subtleties of a single person's life and the decisions he or she makes in it. To teach the values of individuals, de StaŽl advocated novels, but also cited memoirs as being useful.

A Million Little Pieces is just that, a memoir purporting to teach a set of values that both embraces and challenges the Chicken Soup for the Soul set, a book that made people shocked and weepy, that made them realize for the first time or the thousandth time (this is a rather large industry, after all, and someone is buying all these books) "the power of hope," "the resilience of the human spirit," and lots of other inspirational things. The selling point of these books is that they are based on true events. This is important for the Chicken Soup folks because when you are relying upon a book to keep your spirits buoyed, it has to be true, because such an absolutist mindset equates fiction with falsity. The most clear example of this is with one of the biggest inspirational books ever written, the Bible, and the centuries of debate over whether events contained in it are factually correct.

So, here comes along A Million Little Pieces, the story of an alcoholic and drug addict who had all these horrible things happen to him in explicitly described detail, and manages to not only survive, but write a story about it all for all the world to hear! If that isn't an inspiring story, what is?

Then it turns out that he was making most of it up.

At the very least, a a purported "true story" about the power of hope loses its impact when it turns out that most of the story is a lie. The author in fact didn't get thrown in jail for 3 months ( it was only 3 hours), which means that his buddy Porterhouse, the illiterate double-murderer to whom Frey read Don Quixote, War and Peace, and The Brothers Karamazov while serving time, probably never existed (when I think of Porterhouse, I think of 1) the steak, and 2) the guy who had to shine Judge Smails's shoes in Caddyshack). The author in fact had nothing to do with the death of two high school classmates in a horrific accident, as opposed to his version of the story, in which he was not only responsible for the death, but his responsibility made him a pariah in his community. If these facts were fabricated, then maybe it isn't true that he rushed from his three-month prison sentence to his true love's side only to find out that he was too late: she had hanged herself just before he reached her.

At the very worst, for someone with such a tenuous grip on his or her life that he or she relies upon books like A Million Little Pieces for inspiration, this is a form of emotional abuse. In such a reader's mind, if none of these things really happened, then maybe one can't go through all that and come out of it in one piece. And if someone could write all those things, create this reaction in the reader, and be lying through his teeth the entire time, what does that say about people? Where there was once hope, there is now cynicism.

In my opinion, that this has been such a big issue reveals the dysfunction involved in the inspirational books industry. If one reads with the disinterestedness of a scholar, such as how one would read Intelligence in War, then the realization that some of it is slanted towards a certain viewpoint will be accepted with intellectual stoicism. However, if one reads a book in order to have one's emotions stimulated and hopes stirred, the realization that the "true story" is full of outright lies will feel like a betrayal.