Sunday, January 15, 2006

Just the Facts

In the New York Times today, there is an article about the recent trend in book-publishing, in which memoirs are composed of part truth/part fabrication. James Frey recently admitted that some of the worst things that happened to him in his novel "A Million Little Pieces" did not actually happen. The article listed three other recent memoirs that are also partly fictional. The article was not criticizing just the authors for their decisions to sell the books as memoirs, but also the publishing companies, and the general public who seem to have no concern over these little lies.

Something about knowing that a book or movie is based on a true story always ropes me in automatically. Now, I feel as if I have been had. And not just once, but repeatedly so. I have been looking forward to reading Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors, and have had long conversations comparing Dave Pelzer's experiences to my students. Except many of the things both of these authors wrote about never actually happened.

This lack of responsibility is reprehensible. I am disgusted by such choices on the part of the authors, the publishing companies, and the people who publicly support them, such as Oprah. Do we, as the consuming public, hold no standard? Writing is an artform, and if we allow such actions with no consequences of any sort, we show no respect for art. We are slowly making art meaningless.

I have the urge to never let my hands touch these books, but feel like that's just not enough. Maybe instead, I should ask everyone to join me in a slightly larger movement. If you read this and agree with me, then the next time you see one of these books in the nonfiction section of your local bookstore, please move it to the fiction section. Where it belongs.


"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I think lying in a memoir is revolting. Call it fiction if you're going to do that. I would demand my money back if this was a book I owned, but I do not like books where someone obsesses over their life as an addict. I often feel like they still haven't let whatever it was stop controlling them as long as they spend every waking moment thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

Doing this kind of thing in a movie often enhances the experience-- just think of the Blair Witch project and how much scarier it was those few days when people thought it was real. Also, in Fargo, there is a title at the beginning that says it's based on real life, which it isn't. It manipulates the audience. But somehow just doesn't fly in memoirs and literature.