Friday, January 27, 2006

James Frey on Oprah.



Thursday, January 26, 2006

God Bless Oprah.

Oprah had James Frey on her show this morning, along with his publisher Nan A. Talese, and she angrily confronted him about producing a fictional memoir and "duping" her and her viewers.

From USA Today:
Oprah confronts Frey about disputed memoir
CHICAGO (AP) — 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 website, 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.

In a statement issued later Thursday, Doubleday, which initially had called the allegations not worth looking into, said it had "sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished."

The publisher said an author's note was being prepared that will be sent to booksellers to insert into current editions and that any future printings would be delayed until the note is included in the actual book. But no changes in the text are planned and the book will remain classified as a memoir.

Winfrey's words also were harsher than her actions. She 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 Amazon.com. 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."

I think Oprah is fantastic. She could have just ignored the controversy and left it with the statement she made on Larry King Live. I think it was extremely bold for her to confront Frey on her show, and I applaud her for it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

James Frey: A Million Little Pieces

I thought about writing two reviews of this book, one review of it as a novel and one as a memoir. I decided not to, however, because, honestly, I'm so happy to be finished with it that I don't want to spent anymore time with it than I have to. I could write my own damn book about it, but I'm not going to.

In brief, A Million Little Pieces is not good. I realize that I am a bit biased since I started the novel after the news broke that James Frey "exaggerated" a lot of details of his life. "Exaggerated" doesn't seem like the right word. Did anyone really believe this shit before Frey's lies were uncovered? The whole book is filled with elements that just fall together in just the right places. There's no way things happened that way. Now, the placement of certain elements in the book to serve the thematic essence of the story is forgivable.

What is unforgivable about Frey's book is the numerous events that come across as complete bullshit. For example, Frey's account of his treatment for drug and alcohol abuse begins when he wakes up on an airplane that has landed in Chicago. He is covered in blood and vomit, his four front teeth are missing, and he has a large hole in his cheek. Later in the book, he recounts talking to a friend who was with him the night before. His friend took him to the hospital after his accident (which, I don't think - I may not remember, Frey actually describes in the book), pleaded with the doctors to not call the police, then dropped him off at the airport to be flown to Chicago to meet his parents. Frey treats this as if it is absolutely normal. Of course he was just put on an airplane and no one was disturbed that he was covered in blood because his four front teeth had just been knocked-out, not to mention the large hole in his cheek. This happens before Frey describes receiving two root canals without pain-killers or anesthesia, which makes absolutely no sense, considering lidocaine, the most commonly-used dental anesthetic, is not a narcotic or addictive.

Other than being over-the-top and false, Frey's book is very pompous and prententious. The James "character" is completely unsympathetic; he break rules at the treatment center and is given second chances. He refuses to blame his addictions on anyone other than himself, yet when his parents try to mend a broken relationship during a visit, he reacts by explaining to them how much he hates them, even admitting that there isn't a reason but his own. What is remarkable is that all of the other characters who James feuds with end up conceding to him, a twenty-three-year-old alcoholic and drug-addict. What infuriates me the most is that he finishes his program after refusing to accept the twelve-step program. According to the epilogue, he has never replapsed. Well, if that is true, it just belittles the Alcoholics Anonymous program and the men and women who have found solace in it.

The book itself reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption: it is filled with despicable characters who demand the reader's sympathy, even though they do not deserve it. The men that Frey writes about are not victims of their own addictions. They chose their lifestyle; their behaviors at the treatment facility is just as deplorable as their behaviors outside, the only difference being the absence of drugs and alcohol.

The worst thing about this book is that people continue to defend it because "it has helped so many people." I'm dubious of anyone whose life changes based on reading a book, and I can't imagine a drug-addict similar to those in this book putting down his or her crack pipe long enough to read someone's narcissistic account of his own recovery. It has done nothing but place the genre of autobiography into further scrutiny. There is something wrong with our culture if we can let James Frey continue to deceive a nation of readers simply because calling his book a memoir makes for an easier sell.

D-

Sunday, January 22, 2006

the way it is.

hello. i've only read like ten books since graduation in may and i'm not going to lie to you, one of them was 'the nanny diaries.' i had such high hopes for it. and knowing this tyler STILL invited me to write book reports so i'm going to use this as motivation to stop reading crap, or at least start reading crap of a slightly higher caliber. like 'bergdorf blondes.' just kidding! i'll get back to you soon on either 'waterland' by graham swift, 'the long goodbye' by raymond chandler, or my new mcsweeney's. i haven't yet decided which one to take on. bye bye!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I suppose this is my only chance to make a good impression here. I hope I don't flub it too badly. I'm the newest member of The Book Report. I've had posting access for a good few minutes now, and I must say I couldn't be more pleased.

I had a typical bookwormy childhood - always getting in trouble for doing innocent things like reading during math class. The tone of my future relationship with books was set when I composed my very first poem when I was in Grade 2:

Reading is fun
Reading is neat
If you don't read
Your mind's not complete

Books are here
Books are there
It seems that books
Are everywhere


After this masterwork was read over the school announcement system, I was a minor celebrity for an hour or two. Then the teasing began. Fortunately, this teasing forced me away from a life of popularity and back to the printed page. The next 15 years progressed from that poetic moment, and now here we are.

To prove that I have the potential to be useful here, I will now direct you all to LibraryThing, a wonderful way to keep track of your collection and attract book groupies. My personal catalog can be found here.

And now I'm off to read something so I can post an actual review! Unfortunately, I'll probably be reading a cookbook before anything else - it's time to start dinner.

Monday, January 16, 2006

William Faulkner: Requiem for a Nun.

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Faulkner's sequel to his bestselling novel, Sanctuary, is definitely a minor-work compared to his pre-World War II fiction. The book is problematic in its experimental study of how the past affects the present. Faulkner uses prose and play-form; the prose sections are much like his earlier work - full of long-winded (yet beautifully written) stream-of-consciousness passages that chronicle the history of Jefferson, the county seat of his fictional Yoknapatawpha. The play, which practically stands completely separate from the prose sections, concerns Temple Drake eight years after her kidnapping by the gangster Popeye in Sanctuary.

Temple is now married to Gowan Stevens, a featured character from the book's prequel, and the mother of two children. When the play begins, we learn that the children's African-American nanny, Nancy, has been sentenced to death for the murder of Temple's six-month-old daughter. Nancy's defense attorney and Gowan's uncle, Gavin Stevens (a central character in Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust) comes to Temple the night before Nancy's execution and convinces her (through guilt) to accompany him to the governor of Mississippi to plead clemency for Nancy.

I found Faulkner's use of the play-form to tell Temple's story very interesting. Since the plot relied on her confessions, it seemed appropriate that Faulkner would limit his study of one of his most conflicted characters to dialogue. I'm not familiar with the play's history on the stage, and given its frequent three-page monologues and awkward framing, I can't imagine it would be very entertaining to watch, especially since so much of it focuses on Temple's experiences in Sanctuary.

Overall, it was an interesting read, although it cannot be compared to Faulkner's earlier work. I would recommend it to Faulkner fans or anyone who enjoyed Sanctuary and found Temple Drake to be as an intriguing and complicated character as I did.

B+

Manifesto:

This will become a group blog written by friends and/or online-buddies who enjoy reading and sharing with others about what they read. It may be about fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. We may throw in some noteworthy news issues that we find interesting. It may become scattered and random, but hopefully extremely enjoyable.

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