Friday, January 27, 2006

There you go Oprah

When I first heard about the wool that James Frey pulled over my eyes, I thought, what's the big deal. Then I read the Smoking Gun article and saw how much of the book was fabricated and I got pissed. Looks like Oprah had a similar arc. . . Oprah Tells Frey He 'Betrayed' Readers Thursday January 26 4:50 PM ET In a stunning switch from dismissive to disgusted, Oprah Winfrey took on one of her chosen authors, James Frey, accusing him on live television of lying about "A Million Little Pieces" and letting down the many fans of his memoir of addiction and recovery. "I feel duped," she said Thursday on her syndicated talk show. "But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers." Frey, who found himself booed in the same Chicago studio where he had been embraced not long ago, acknowledged that he had lied. A sometimes angry, sometimes tearful Winfrey asked Frey why he "felt the need to lie." Audience members often groaned and gasped at Frey's halting, stuttered admissions that certain facts and characters had been "altered" but that the essence of his memoir was real. "I don't think it is a novel," Frey said of his book, which had initially been offered to publishers, and rejected by many, as fiction. "I still think it's a memoir." Thursday's broadcast, rare proof that the contents of a book can lead to great tabloid TV, marked an abrupt reversal from the cozy chat two weeks ago on "Larry King Live," when Winfrey phoned in to support Frey and label alleged fabrications as "much ado about nothing." "I left the impression that the truth is not important," Winfrey said Thursday of last week's call, saying that "e-mail after e-mail" from supporters of the book had cast a "cloud" over her judgment. On a segment that also featured the book's publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday, Frey was questioned about various parts of his book, from the three-month jail sentence he now says he never served to undergoing dental surgery without Novocain, a story he no longer clearly recalls. Winfrey, whose apparent indifference to the memoir's accuracy led to intense criticism, including angry e-mails on her Web site, subjected Frey to a virtual page-by-page interrogation. No longer, as she told King, was she saying that emotional truth mattered more than the facts. "Mr. Bravado Tough Guy," she mockingly called the author whose book she had enshrined last fall and whose reputation she had recently saved. Talese and Doubleday were not spared. Winfrey noted that her staff had been alerted to possible discrepancies in Frey's book, only to be assured by the publisher. She lectured Talese on her responsibilities: "I'm trusting you, the publisher, to categorize this book whether as fiction or autobiographical or memoir." Talese, an industry veteran whose many authors have included Ian McEwan, George Plimpton and Thomas Cahill, told Winfrey that editors who saw the book raised no questions and that "A Million Pieces" received a legal vetting. She acknowledged that the book had not been fact-checked, something many publishers say they have little time to do, but that future editions would include an author's note saying parts of the book "had been changed." Winfrey did not unleash publishing's version of the death penalty: revoking her endorsement, a devastating and unprecedented action. Only once before has she turned, relatively mildly, on a book club pick: In 2001, she withdrew her invitation for Jonathan Franzen, author of "The Corrections," to appear on her show after the novelist expressed ambivalence over her endorsement. Her current choice is Elie Wiesel's classic, "Night," a memoir with a concise, literary style that has led some to call it a novel. Three years ago, Frey stepped up as publishing's latest and baddest bad boy, with tattooed initials on his arm "FTBSITTTD" bearing a defiant and unprintable message. Winfrey's selection made his book a million seller and Frey a hero to many who believed his story was theirs. "In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was, and it helped me cope," Frey said Thursday on Winfrey's show. "And when I was writing the book, instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image." Frey's career will likely never recover, although so far he has not suffered for sales. His book, a million seller thanks to Winfrey, remained in the top 5 Thursday on A second memoir, "My Friend Leonard," was in the top 20. He currently has a two-book deal with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, with a novel about contemporary Los Angeles due in 2007. The publisher did not have an immediate comment Thursday. Beyond Frey, and his publishers, stories of suffering may themselves take a fall. Frey's saga comes at a time when the work, and even the identities, of such alleged hard-luck authors as J.T. Leroy and Nasdijj have been questioned. St. Martin's Press recently added a disclaimer to an upcoming book by Augusten Burroughs, another memoirist who has been challenged. "I think for a while, this will make people careful," said Ashbel Green, a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf. "But this question of fact checking is a complicated one. At The New Yorker and Time and Newsweek, you have experienced people who know where to go and what's right and what's wrong. We don't. There's been a traditional dependency on the author." ___ Associated Press Writer Karen Hawkins contributed to this story in Chicago.


At 1/27/2006 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

I can't believe this debate is still going on. my two cents? I don't care what the facts are. It's a great book that completely sucked me in and helped me to escape a stressful time in my own life for a couple of days. I enjoy the author's style of writing. And regardless of what crimes he did/did not commit, he somehow managed to recover from a serious dependency problem and then go on to become a published author... I have admiration for anyone who is able to do that. Poor guy... I hope this media scrutiny doesn't send him back to the crack pipe.

At 1/27/2006 02:33:00 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

The English novelist Anthony Powell said, "Memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that."

The issue for me isn't "Is it true." Because really, there is no such thing as truth. It doesn't exist. What does exist is Point of View.

I suppose Mr. Frey could argue from his point of view creating events allowed him to get to the core of the inner truth of his story.

And you're right. A guy coming back from the brink of serious addiction to a successful career with wife, baby and a house in the Hamptons is an amazing thing.

For me- my truth- my point of view- calling a book a memoir and then making up a number of major dramatic actions disgusts me to the point that I am unable to enjoy the book any longer for its merits- which I agree there are many.

You have clarified your point of view and I am glad that you enjoyed the book. It is a good read.

I just wish that the book had sold as a novel when he was first shopping it around. No one wanted it. They changed its genre to memoir and the book sold.

If you would like my copy of My Friend Leonard I can mail it to you. Picked up at Skylight Books 1st ed and it is signed. . .

At 1/27/2006 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Thanks, but i already have it. Reading it right now.


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