All right, folks. Let’s sit down and have a chat about all of the authors you’re angry at because you were “touched” by their memoirs, and whom you then decry as demons when you find out they made the memoir up. It’s a long overdue conversation, and it’s one I really want you to think about.
Oprah took James Frey to task for making up the majority of his book A Million Little Pieces after she had endorsed it and made a good portion of the housewives of America read it. Oprah, the crusader that she is, took Frey to task publicly, outraged at having been deceived by his occasionally fictitious “memoir.” He was, in fact, a drug addict, and many of the pieces of A Million Little Pieces are, in fact, true. Lots of fact there for you to enjoy.
More recently, Misha Defonseca admitted that her Holocaust memoir Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years was entirely fabricated. That’s right – she fabricated her memoir of her survival of the Holocaust years. Millions of copies are in print in over 18 languages. Are you horrified?
Folks? The book was about how a pack of wolves adopted her and how she traversed Europe with them after her parents were seized by Nazis. A pack. Of wolves. And you are suddenly outraged to discover she made this up? Please, spare me your sputtering outrage. I realize that we are to take novels by Holocaust survivors seriously, but if you were able to suspend your disbelief *that* much, perhaps you have bigger issues than putting too much faith in your authors.
Today, the Times reports on how Margaret B. Jones’s Love and Consequences, a tale of gang life in L.A., is fictional because *gasp* Ms. Jones is a well-to-do white woman with nary a gang sign in her muscle memory. She claims that many of the experiences in the book are a reflection of experiences of her friends in L.A., and that the book was her opportunity to give them a voice. The publisher has recalled all copies of the book and canceled the book tour. Apparently her voice is not as worthy as they thought it was when it was gravelled by crack use.
I ask you this: does it detract from the literary merit of these works that they were fictionalized, to one degree or another? Does this fictionalizing experience merit yanking the book from the shelves? As a reader, are you committed to only being touched by books that are rooted in absolute fact at all times?
These books are no less poignant and heartfelt for having been fictionalized. They were poorly marketed by publishers who were too lazy to do some fact-checking before schlepping a salable author onto the shelves, perhaps. Creative non-fiction is so clunky to say, and even the CNF folks argue about where the line between “truth” as actual events and “Truth” as the meaning the author wants to get across begins to blur.
If your appreciation for a work is based solely on its merit as a piece of actual immutable non-fiction, read a newspaper. Even biographies and autobiographies contain some element of translation in them, and fabricating details, memories, or realizations that only come with looking back over a life.
None of these books should be removed from the shelves, though the authors should likely be tutored in manners. Then again, who can blame a white woman who has the chutzpah to place herself in minority foster-child gangbanger shoes for not admitting to her privileged status? Interesting that her book was taken seriously as a poignant and worthy social commentary only when her audience thought she had those actual experiences.
Change the marketing and repackage the book as a fictionalized memoir. Cluck your tongues at authors if you must. But to censor a book that touches the hearts and minds of people, that generates discussion and engages the reader is certainly more of a crime than that committed by an author who tells a wonderful tale.