Friday, January 27, 2006

A warning label

Wherein I fail to be bothered

James Frey was on Oprah, she's pissed. I haven't read Frey and have no plans to. Still, I can't work up any indignation over James Frey and it sure seems that the resulting reaction is over the top. Here's the description still up at Random house:
In writing his shattering, beautiful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, James Frey does away with a lot of things: punctuation, standard grammar rules, 12-step programs, belief in a higher power, and, eventually, his addiction to alcohol and drugs. In doing so, he has rewritten the rules 'Recovery Memoir' and established himself as a major literary talent.

He isn't writing history. He isn't trying to teach. He's trying to tell a story. He wasn't famous or telling a story that others had a vested interest in, it's just him. Yeah, it would be more accurate to call it fiction, but in the final analysis, isn't that just marketing? What should be important is if the story is a good one. Can he write, is it literary? There is much in the world of fiction literature that speaks to universal truths and readers hold dear. Is the story James Frey tells any less powerful because he exaggerates and invents? If the Frey readers feel defrauded, then maybe they were too caught up in a cult of personality and being seen with a cool book.

For future memoirs, I recommend all publishers use the warning Lynda Barry reads at the beginning of The Lynda Barry Experience:
The stories you're about to hear are true. Except for the ones that are big honking lies.

Update: More


Blogger reader_iam said...

Thanks for the link!

If you read my final update, you saw one of the reasons you and I part company on this one.

Thank goodness we can always talk about weird foods.

; )

1/27/2006 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger reader_iam said...

And the Lynda Barry disclaimer would be A-OK with me.

Just as long as the author, publisher etc. didn't confuse the two concepts.

1/27/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

conversations are boring if we always agree.

1/27/2006 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Ahistoricality said...

It's a "truth in labelling" thing, really. "Memoir" to most people, most of the time, means "autobiography," at least of a limited portion of one's life, and is expected to be as faithful as possible to the truth. Not "my truth" in that ego-pomo sort of way, but "not contradicting verifiable facts" sort of old-fashioned way.

And it's not like he went on the Oprah show originally and said "well, it's based on my life, but not really about me as such": no, he lied, in person as well as in print.

Someone once said that there's never been an honest autobiography, which is reasonably true. People lie, particularly to themselves about themselves. But when you do it in public, you pay a price in credibility.

1/29/2006 05:05:00 AM  

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