Thursday, January 12, 2006

James Frey's con job and Steve Levitt's odd reaction

The Smoking Gun has done a bravura piece of work here; while the author is backpedaling he continues to defend this farce. Steve Levitt dissects the quality of the response nicely.
This has made the Canadian media this morning, thanks to Larry King. There is much being muttered on the theme that while the facts are bogus, the story is accurate.
Is this what we have come to? Fake but accurate everywhere? This is not a world I wanted to grow into - I'd rather we focussed on getting facts as right as we can, and then building our feelings and posturing on top of those as best we can, rather than sorting out our facts to fit our attitudes.
Of course for me it is not really Frey who is the issue, and his back story makes this even clearer, as the expose incldes this key piece of the story:
Of course, if "A Million Little Pieces" was fictional, just some overheated stories of woe, heartache, and debauchery cooked up by a wannabe author, it probably would not get published. As it was, Frey's original manuscript was rejected by 17 publishers before being accepted by industry titan Nan Talese, who runs a respected boutique imprint at Doubleday (Talese reportedly paid Frey a $50,000 advance). According to a February 2003 New York Observer story by Joe Hagan, Frey originally tried to sell the book as a fictional work, but the Talese imprint "declined to publish it as such." A retooled manuscript, presumably with all the fake stuff excised, was published in April 2003 amid a major publicity campaign.
One wonders what value the publishers think they are adding here; if it is not that they sort out the fakery from what is true, then what do they offer, as other forms of free distribution become available? This is a problem not unlike what newspapers face right now.

I still find disconcerting Levitt's comment in his post linked above:
My suggestion is that the next printing should just call it fiction. It is a great book, it just isn’t non-fiction. I still will make my kids read it when they are 15.
Well, if at 15, I had my parents come to me recommending learning from a piece of fiction that was initially sold as reality, and only categorized as fiction after being exposed as largely fraudulent, I would distrust the text (and my parents) enormously. And I would like to think Levitt would want his children to be so data-oriented and focussed on truth. Moreover, there is no way my parents could have MADE me read anything at 15, nor would it have crossed their minds. What is he thinking? Or is he thinking? Does he really hope his 15-year-old children should be impressed by "just some overheated stories of woe, heartache, and debauchery cooked up by a wannabe author"?

It seems to me they would be better off learning something real.

a) Legal aspects
b) NancyRommelmann'stake (she seems to care).


At 10:41 PM, Blogger Hippoplatypus said...

My son will not read this at 15 simply because of the language and disrepect to his body and others. I don't want him to think for a minute he could survive the fictional piece himself.

What if we found out that Tom Brokaw (or was it Jennings?) took a lot of liberties with his book about the greatest generation? Wouldn't that discredit it? The appeal of this book all along was the raw truth that it was supposedly fact. Now that it has washed out as fiction, I can go to Tarantino for horrific accounts of what nasty things "could" happen.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger Alan Adamson said...

I LOVE that point! Tarantino offers all the same benefits now. Now personally, I have never thought Tarantino offered many. But Frey offers no more.


Post a Comment

<< Home