Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Open Discussion: Fake Memoirs

I have known of these fake memoirs for some time, but had never really looked into them. I find it fascinating that SLISGUY revealed two important yet differing results: 1)James Frey has written a new fake memoir, and 2) The Last Train to Hiroshima is in the process of being recalled. I recall the situation with Mr. Frey very well, after all, when Queen Oprah lectures you on her TV show, it becomes part of all media news coverage.
Yet, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Because Oprah chewed out James Frey on national television, he finds himself with the energy and clout to attempt this stunt again! The mind reels at the fact that repercussions for deceit are not enacted in any way. At least not if your James Frey.
This detail concerning Mr. Frey deeply concerns me as a future librarian. It's fairly clear that if there's a request for a book, one must acquire it. It's also clear that many books probably are not as sincere and honest as you would like them to be. That the public at large is prepared to consume these falsehoods and accept them for a time is sad. It calls to mind the old Jack Warner quote:'No one ever lost money discounting the intelligence of the American Public.' Just like so many people line up at the movie theaters to watch a wretched turd like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, they are prepared to shell out their hard earned cash for a fake memoir.
It calls to mind a few moments on television where this subject was explored. In 'Head of the Class', back in the 80's (that long-lost decade), they once ran a literary magazine for the high school. One of the contributions that the girl who was editing liked was a heartbreaking memoir written by the class troublemaker. It sounded deeply sincere and the part she quotes in the episode is positively literate and anguished. This is permitted to continue, until this embarrassed punk confesses that one of the integral details was made up. I believe the line was 'I never had a brother.' This causes the editor to reel in her disappointment and loathe herself. Of course, it's a sitcom so it manages to resolve itself positively by the end of the episode. South Park explored the fake memoir and Oprah using the long suffering, marijuana addicted Towel-e as the fake memoirist. Although the scenario they create for the farcical aspects involves Oprah's private parts (who both have English accents apparently) conspiring to have Oprah's show canceled so she can devote all her time to pleasuring herself - and by proxy them - Towel-e much like James Frey does not have any serious repercussions to worry about. Certainly, Oprah lectures him on the air, but Towel-e escapes the ensuing hostage situation and lives to smoke a joint again.

Isn't it interesting how much art (or in this case television) attempts to imitate art? I don't exactly know what can be done about fakes, outside of reporting them of course. This is just another terrible pit fall waiting to ensnare a collection development person looking for a good memoir to add to the collection. Wow, that was a chilling final thought...


  1. Well, I think publishers need to be held accountable - a bit more than they are.

    I could not have the privilege of teaching you fine students - if I had not be thoroughly vetted by what seems like a hundred individuals at various institutions.

    Couldn't these publishers do just a bit of dig - outside of the good peoples' pockets - do a little background check.

    As a librarian, I would move these outed fakes to fiction - and use a local subject heading in the MARC record - "Memoir as Fiction."

    Then, I would glue a respected news article, properly cited on the back side of the front covering, detailing the status of the book.

    Must fight back! so says me. :)

  2. Entirely agree, the source denouncing the book would definitely be good to include. I shall endeavor to do that once somebody hires me.