Why James Frey Doesn’t Get It Right

When my good friend Scott got me doing this blogging thing, I was, to say the least, suspicious. Alas, I’ve grown to love telling about new books, and really appreciate the feedback we’ve gotten. I was very clear, though, that my blogging experiment would need to be focused upon what I sense to be my calling: bookselling. Of course, for us, our effort to have good livelihood by being small business operators has an educational aspect. We have to tell folks, yep, even try to convince folks, that reading the titles we recommend would be a good thing. Obviuosly, we opened our shop to sell books— books we believe in, books that carry ideas, insights, enjoyment and challenge. Whether artful or prosaic, fiction or nonfiction, children’s or adult’s, we want to make our living telling people about books. And so, we do our annotations and reviews, tell of our Dallastown shop, invite you into our circle of supporters and try to cheerlead for our work without sounding too self-indulgent.
To wit: I promised myself that I would not opine about other stuff here, as much as I may want to. Of course, in the shop we talk about all sorts of current issues and I write occasionally to the local papers. I regularly have hefty discussion on email with friends, folks I don’t know, even authors and the occasional enemy. Here, though, I want to be about the books.
Because of this desire for focus, I also do not use this as a forum to tell you about other good blogs (although I’ve got some great friends who write), websites or op-ed pieces that I’ve seen.. I would guess you have plenty to read and that you visit blogs and sites more thorough than this one. So forgive me if I haven’t mentioned your favorite blogster or haven’t linked you to the many sites that revolve around the books and topics I’ve reviewed.
I would guess you know where this is going, though: I’m going to break my rule and send you a link, a link to an essay that I found exceptionally well-written, very moving, and important to the genre of literature I so admire, that of memoir. As you may know, there has been a firestorm of controversy and media appearances in recent weeks around the alleged dishonesty of the now-famous and hugely popular Oprah book of last year, A Million Little Pieces. We stock this book and have been moved by James Frey’s creative prose, intense descriptions of his horrible journey into and out of brutal drug and alcohol abuse. It is not a book for the faint of heart, and although we find his humanistic self-dependency to be unsustainable (intellectually or experientially) it is a window into the dark side of the human experience.
Below is a link to a brilliant piece written by a woman who never trusted Frey’s book, dislikes his style, and shares how she–who sweated blood to tell her story honestly—resents his cavalier attitude about the facts of his life. It is the best thing I’ve seen on this particular debate and a moving tribute to all those who do memoir well. King’s essay (orginally in Publishers Weekly) has made me want to read her book, Parched, which is her own memoir of recovery from alcoholism. Anybody else know of it? We have it for those who are, as I was, moved by her brief essay.
Please click here to read Why James Frey Doesn’t Get It Right by Heather King. I hope you appreciate her clarity and care and integrity, even if you may not agree fully with her critique of Frey.

3 thoughts on “Why James Frey Doesn’t Get It Right

  1. Byron,Thanks the for the link to the article. I have not read A Million Little Pieces, nor have I travelled a simliar road to recovery, so I can’t say I agree or disagree fully with King’s critique, but I can say that I sensed passion and humility in her writing. Her paragraph on the burden of “getting it right” for the memoirist was especially moving. I’d like to read Parched.Thanks again for the link. peace,Christie

  2. Thanks for breaking your rule, Byron! This is worth it. Thanks for the link. I’ve not read either book but have been trying to get up to speed on the James Frey story. Plus, I’m hoping soon to be working on an MFA in creative non-fiction, and this James Frey raises important issues for that genre. King says some thoughtful things well in her essay.

  3. Hey, if anybody still follows this, you may want to know that the publisher and publicists have faced Oprah’s rage on national TV, Doubleday had apparantly had reasons to know Frey was lying, and new editions of the book will have some new features (like a disclaimer, an explanatory mea culpa or something from the author, etc.) Interesting.Byron

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