Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 30, 2006, Herald Journal

Redefining the term ‘memoir’


In last week’s paper, I had an article about the controversy of James Frey’s book, “A Million Little Pieces,” unfortunately though, I wasn’t aloud to comment on it.

After watching Oprah’s shows Thursday, the issue began to bother me even more so than it already had.

Oprah defended Frey on “Larry King Live” only because of the emails she received praising the book on how it’s helped so many people.

She now apologized for condoning a man that has outright lied to his readers.

I was attracted to the book, not because Oprah suggested it (she’s suggested a lot of snoozers in the past), but because I wanted to know more about the life and the mind of a true addict.

When I was under the impression that it was factual, I read it in awe of the pain and horribleness of his experiences. His pain made me want to keep reading it.

Well, after all the controversy, I have set the book down and I probably will never pick it up to finish it.

So many parts of the book had been altered that I began doubting the whole thing.

Knowing the book was a memoir made it that more compelling. I would never have bought it if it was on the fiction shelf. It’s hard to read. There are no complete sentences. It’s all fragments of what has come to be, lies.

As I watched Frey being accused by a icon that had once defended him, I almost felt bad for him. But, on the other hand, he couldn’t defend himself. He kept tripping over words when asked about the falsities.

Frey’s publisher was also there to speak and she had been conned by him as well. When she read the manuscript, I believe she thought it was all true. Why would you doubt a memoir? Apparently, this is why?

I think publishers will take a different approach when reading manuscripts of memoirs.

One guest suggested hiring fact checkers and that if they had, it would’ve been known in a half-hour that parts of the book was fabricated.

On the show, they talked about truth being the first step for an addict and here is a former addict who lied about his past to make it more interesting.

For example, in the end of the book, a women killed herself. Frey wrote she hung herself, but in actuality, she slit her wrist. Was hanging a more glamorous way of ending one’s life? Why did he have to lie about that?

The publishing companies will have to work to regain its reliability in the genre of memoirs. If I wanted to read a novel, I would’ve went to the Fiction section of Barnes and Noble.

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