It’s time to let go of James Frey. Yes, he did a bad thing. “Bad Frey, Bad!” It will leave a mark on the literary scene for years to come (or will it?). I’m not going to rehash the facts of his untruths as it has been done elsewhere already. Besides I don’t know about you but I’m tired of hearing about Frey and his Million Little Pieces and would really like to put it to rest. Maybe it was a good thing he did what he did. Because now everyone’s eyes are open and everyone is wondering if what they read or plan to read in the future is legitimate. When did we become complacent in our reading?
It’s important to ask questions and spur discussion. Notice I said it’s good to ask questions. Mistrust in authors and an industry is a totally different thing. I think it’s important to not mix the two. To mistrust every memoir or biography we read is a waste of time and will probably ruin the market value of some really juicy stories. But to have curiosity of what we’re reading and showing up on author tours to ask questions is healthy and rounds out the experience. It also puts a face to the writer.
When the news first broke of Frey’s deception I thought it was some sort of marketing plan. The old “bad publicity is better than no publicity” or these days “bad publicity is the best publicity”. In all the brou ha I didn’t see a drop in sales. Even now after so many weeks of “bad boy” tantrums about his mischievousness, or lack of, I don’t see it affecting A Million Little Pieces. In fact, it’s still high on major bestsellers lists.
On Publisher’s Weekly’s trade paperback list it is #2. On the LA Times list it is still under non-fiction and is in the #1 slot. The San Francisco Chronicle has it at #2 on their Quality Paperbacks list. USA Today has it at #6 on their overall bestsellers list. The Big Daddy of them all, Book Sense has it in their Trade Paper Back Non-fiction at # 2. So while there has been some embarrassment for those involved it hasn’t affected sales.
I read recently in Publisher’s Weekly that James Frey’s book wouldn’t have been such an issue in France “at least in terms of its best sellers list, since autobiography and biography fall under the fiction column there.” Apparently, the media and honest writers have made a bigger deal out of this than those who buy the books. Watching this whole thing unfold, I’ve learned one thing, dishonesty pays. And that is really a sad reflection of our society. Have I bought the book? No. Will I buy the book? No. Do I think you should buy the book? That’s depends on whether you think Frey should be rewarded for what he’s done.
Instead of Frey, you might try…
Originally published 2/17/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.