Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another fabulist in non-fiction book publishing: is trade book publishing just too "numbers driven"?

Once again, we have a “fabulist.” A book, “Love and Consequences,” by Margaret B. Jones, about experiences as a half Native American growing up in the poorer sections of Los Angeles, has been recalled by Riverhead Books (part of the Penguin Group) after it was disclosed (apparently by the author's sister) that the book, as far as a true story, was a fabrication. Amazon has the listing, but confirms that the book has been recalled.

The real author was Margaret Seltzer, and apparently the book is a compilation of stories told her by friends and classmates. One asks, then, why not publish it as a novel and make it fiction. (We know from the “Freedom Writers” that stories based on inner city diaries, even if fictitious, can make good reads.) It sounds like it was pretty effective as writing. But apparently the publishers paid for the book or gave an advance on the idea that it was non-fiction. To a casual reader, that seems like a silly practice.

The news story appeared on page A1 print of The New York Times today (Tuesday March 4 2008), “Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction; Author admits memoir of gang life is fabricated,” by Motoko Rich, link here.

Rich followed up on p. A18 (New York Times) March 6 with "Foundation is questioned after memoir is exposed," about a supposed foundation "Jones" had started to mentor inner-city teens, link here.

ABC "Good Morning America" ran the story on March 5, 2008 by Russell Goldman, "Have Publishers Lost Their Mojo? Author of Hoax Book Created Elaborate Backstory: Latest Publishing Fake Raises Questions About How to Best Suss Out Fakers," link here. I wonder how high school English teachers and college professors would view this question in relation to their concerns about academic integrity with term papers and theses.

Other examples of this problem have been “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust years,” and James Frey ‘s “trainspotting” “A Million Little Pieces” which I actually did buy (cheaply) to see what the fuss was about. Even Augusten Burroughs and his "Running with Scissors" (which became an artsy movie from Tri-Star) allegedly made a lot of stuff up, link. His brother did not, however, with a riveting account of Aspergers in John Elder Robinson's "Look Me in the Eye".

Of course, we remember the film “Shattered Glass” about Stephen Glass at The New Republic (Lions Gate, dir. Billy Ray, with Hayden Christiansen as the “fabulist”). The real person would write a novel called just that.

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