Don’t Cheat With It

Did you watch Oprah’s interview with James Frey yesterday? Honestly, I don’t see the point of this interview and with two parts, the second part to be continued today. Maybe it’s just me. Two whole hours of James Frey when he lied on national television about his memoir, about his wholly fabricated details of his criminal career, and said “all true – I think I wrote about the events in the book truly and honestly and accurately.”

His book ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was first published in 2003 by Nan A. Talese, Doubleday and became a New York Times Bestseller before it was chosen for Oprah’s book club, and before the writer appeared on Oprah in 2005. Millions of people read his book because as Ernest Hemingway writes;

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”

As I watched James the writer on Oprah yesterday, I listened to his contradictory statements, that’s what they seemed to be to me at least. At one time he mentioned that he wanted to be a writer just like Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and so. He said he taught himself from the age of twenty-two to thirty-one how to write and then when he wrote he did so defying all rules of grammar, page setup and all, even form. He said he first tried to promote his manuscript as a novel to his agent. He then continued and said he doesn’t have much respect to that particular genre, memoirs. Are you kidding me? How can you as an author write something in the form you have no respect for and expect me the reader not only to read your book but respect you as a writer?

Jack Kerouac’s second book ‘On The Road’ was first published in USA by Viking Press Inc, in 1957. Overnight he became a sensation as a writer and his book became an American classic. People were not interested in him as a writer at the time as much as they wanted to know about the Beat Generation. Suddenly The Beats became news to them. And his book ‘On The Road’ became a testament of the Beat Generation the same way Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’ became a testament of the Lost Generation. If following in the footsteps Jack Kerouac, James Frey wanted to leave an impression, he could very well have done so by categorizing his book as a novel. When you write a story William Saroyan writes;

“The real story can never be told. It is untellable. The real (as real) is inaccessible, being gone in time. There is no point in glancing at the past, in summoning it up, in re-examining it, except on behalf of art — that is, the meaningful-real.”

Which brings me to the credibility and professionalism of publishers and agents. His publisher Nan A. Talese contradicted herself more than once when she said she hadn’t checked the authenticity of the events in the memoir, while at other times she said it didn’t bother her since it was a good book. Are we as publishers, agents, writers so desperate to make it big, become rich fast so as to forget all ethical and moral issues? Are we to sacrifice our values and everything we live for and believe in for the sake of financial gains or for marketing purposes?

James Frey and his publishers cheated the readers for three years before the truth came out. You cannot cheat your readers, you cannot lie to them, not for long anyways. The best way is and I quote:

“Write the truest sentence that you know. Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it – don’t cheat with it.” Ernest Hemingway


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3 Responses to Don’t Cheat With It

  1. marcys says:

    Nice piece. I thought this was all over. I also thought Oprah was no longer a fan of JF. The whole thing stinks, and makes the publishing industry look bad. But then, it deserves to.

    • chichikir says:

      Thanks Marcy. In the second part it was obvious that Oprah is no fan of JF. If you watched behind the scenes it was Sheri Salata, her executive producer’s idea. Oprah mentioned also that it was Sheri who first introduced the book to her, which makes me wonder… Thanks for the notice too.

  2. Pingback: Literary Larceny | Ramblings

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