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Home > Blog > Nonfiction as Truth
Out of Our Minds
Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:44 PM
Nonfiction as Truth
Kevin Salwen on Bookshelf

When is a memoir really a memoir? Obviously -- and to her credit -- Oprah Winfrey has changed her perspective on James Frey's fictional piece of nonfiction, A Million Little Pieces.


7 comments

t espi - 1/28/2006 3:22:25 PM
I agree with most of you, but Terrell, to compare Frey to those that write for newpapers is a little bit of a stretch. I mean it goes back to the comment about history books...there are certain places that we should feel about 90% sure that we are getting factual information. A memoir is not one. The book was fantastic, and the best part for me was the idea that he excepted the responsiblity for what he did and did not feel the need to hide behind it being something that he was born with and could not help.

On another note, did anyone think that maybe all the drinking and drugs fried his brain a little? Maybe his truth and fiction are a little confused.

One last comment, this should show Oprah (god love her) that maybe sometimes she gets in over her head and she does not know all! I am glad that she has introduced millions of people to literature that they would have never thought about reading before, but she is a little out of her league. To not know that pubs do not do all the fact checking that she assumed they would do. That puts her in the same catagory as most people...not the expert that she claims to be. By leading this book club she has assumed a certain responsibility...I am surprised it has taken this long to backfire!
t espi - 1/28/2006 3:20:57 PM
I agree with most of you, but Terrell, to compare Frey to those that write for newpapers is a little bit of a stretch. I mean it goes back to the comment about history books...there are certain places that we should feel about 90% sure that we are getting factual information. A memoir is not one. The book was fantastic, and the best part for me was the idea that he excepted the responsiblity for what he did and did not feel the need to hide behind it being something that he was born with and could not help.

On another note, did anyone think that maybe all the drinking and drugs fried his brain a little? Maybe his truth and fiction are a little confused.

One last comment, this should show Oprah (god love her) that maybe sometimes she gets in over her head and she does not know all! I am glad that she has introduced millions of people to literature that they would have never thought about reading before, but she is a little out of her league. To not know that pubs do not do all the fact checking that she assumed they would do. That puts her in the same catagory as most people...not the expert that she claims to be. By leading this book club she has assumed a certain responsibility...I am surprised it has taken this long to backfire!
martin - 1/27/2006 11:04:19 AM
Slight change of heart about Oprah. After hearing her apologize I've grown to respect her a bit more. The apology is something few people in her position are willing to publicly pronounce.

I'm still somewhat amazed by the fact that people aren't more annoyed at the level of deceit in Frey's book. It's one thing to stretch the truth in a memoir. It's entirely different to fabricate an entire story and call it a memoir.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 1/26/2006 3:16:07 PM
Wow, what an interesting turn of events for all concerned. Oprah endorsed this man because she believed in his story. (not his history.) Did her people do enough work to make sure the book was true to life? Sounds like her staff could have researched better to ensure this didn't happen. That's what they get paid for. What I find interesting is that so many people seem to have taken offense to the fact that the story is not 100% truth...Much of history, and memoirs included, are the truth according to the teller. Many history books, written 50 or 60 years ago for example, give a whole different perspective on how native American Indians were treated versus the reality, or historical truth. The truth is only becoming apparent now. Same thing in Ireland and other places around the world. So, why the upcry now around this story? Oprah carries a lot of power and influence and there will always be people checking on her stories to find cause for discussion. This is but one of them and surely not the last. Methinks she supported him initially because that's what felt right to her. This is a guy who has overcome some pretty big hurdles and managed to survive. Should he have made this a true story novel? Nope. Did he learn his lesson? Sure hope so. I remember when I saw him on Oprah telling his story. I was thinking 'Wow, his life is gonna be forever changed. Sure hope he can handle it. ' Now that is even more true. Good luck to James Frey. Kudos to Oprah for finally acknowledging that the truth is the truth, there is no swaying. Now, if only we could get our political leaders to understand that concept......Living la vida fearless, Jan
Terrell Johnson - 1/26/2006 2:49:01 PM
One of the things that I've found interesting about this episode is the difference in how James Frey is being treated vs. the way in which Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke were disposed of when they committed very similar professional sins. Those writers & reporters were basically earning only their take-home salaries from the New York Times, New Republic and the Washington Post, respectively, while Frey carries many more people on his shoulders as dependents -- his book has made his publisher millions, and one of the major studios has been working on turning 'A Million Little Pieces' into a film. That couldn't have anything to do with the willingness on their part to cut him a little slack, now could it?
Coley - 1/26/2006 1:58:44 PM
I haven't read the book, but actually all of this controversy has made me think it's probably a pretty good story and as soon as I have a free minute I'm going to go pick up a copy. Personally, if I'm going to pay the price for a trade paper back, I feel it better be entertaining. As for truth, even in a memoir, I don't really care... I mean if telling a story strictly with the entire truth is boring but a talented writer can tell their story with some tweaked details that make it more fun, I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I don't understand why people are so worked up over this... we are talking about a memoir, not a high school history book. A memoir is someones own interpretation of their life. If I choose to read a memoir I automatically assume some of it-- intentionally or unintentionally (as memories are often false)-- will not be true. I don't know why people seem to take so personally that a guy they have never met, a guy who was a nobody before this book, decided to write down his life story and tweak the details to make it a more interesting read. People act as though their best friend betrayed them. It's rediculous and just shows how American society creates the 'drama queen' attitude in its citizens. People just need to GET OVER IT and live their own memoir.
martin - 1/26/2006 1:13:04 PM
It was a 'what the f...?' moment for me when I first heard Oprah say that the truth mattered less than the story of redemption. That sort of equivocation is really abhorrent to me. Maybe not to others, but it's important to me. So I'm not surprised in her changing her perspective. I'm just much less intrigued by her and wonder what was she thinking, and what took her so long.

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