Sunday, March 09, 2008

Just Excepting The Facts Ma'Am

The fake memoir crime wave in the publishing ghetto would have kept Sgt. Joe Friday in business for years. Sadly, the system is still broken, the system did not 'work' when the perp was caught after publication and sadly the whole thing will be repeated in weeks or months or years from now.

Perhaps the dumbest thing said about the whole episode was that to fact check every book would cause no book to be profitable. If that's the case, the industry has some bigger issues.

There are several articles about fake memoirs this weekend. Here is a selection:

Mendelsohn in the NYTimes:
But then, we all like a good story. The cruelty of the fraudulent ones is that they will inevitably make us distrustful of the true ones — a result unbearable to think about when the Holocaust itself is increasingly dismissed by deniers as just another “amazing story.” Early on in my research for my book, another very old woman suddenly grew tired being interviewed. “Stories, stories,” she sighed wearily at the end of our time together. “There isn’t enough paper in the world to write the stories we can tell you.” She, of course, was talking about the true stories. How tragic if, because of the false ones, those amazing tales are never read — or believed.
Tim Martin in The Telegraph:
Mis lit is, after all, literature's largest growth industry: W H Smith recently added to its Fiction and Biography shelfmarks a new one bearing the legend Tragic Life Stories, and the temptation to creative writing students must be great. Who says there's no future in fiction? Fake memoirs of the less pernicious kind, however, belong to a literary tradition that goes back through Defoe to Mandeville and beyond. It also comprehends some astonishing characters, particularly when the fakers were forced to appear in person.
The Los Angeles Times:
It should have been obvious, perhaps, but it wasn't. Certainly it never occurred to her publisher, Riverhead Books, to make even the most rudimentary check into her background, which would have quickly revealed Margaret Jones to be a character created by one Margaret Seltzer. Seltzer, who as Jones claimed to have entered the foster system after a sexual assault at age 5 and went so far as to invent an ethnicity for herself -- half Native American and half white -- is in fact all white and grew up with her biological family in Sherman Oaks.
Almond in The Trib:

But Seltzer became convinced that only by presenting the story as autobiography would anyone "listen to it." The sad truth is she's probably right. Over the past few years, publishers have responded to declining readership by developing an insatiable hunger for books that come with "author survivors" attached.Why? Because they know that such books are about 100 times more likely to get reviewed and featured on National Public Radio and anointed by Oprah. It's not enough anymore simply to offer besieged publishers a nuanced work of imagination. They need an inspirational figure the marketing people can dangle as interview bait. They need a pitch dramatic enough to resonate within the frantic metabolism of our perpetual news cycle.

I'd be willing to bet that if Seltzer (like Frey) had shopped her book as fiction, editors would have taken a pass. They might have even complained that the plot twists felt clich├ęd or unrealistic. But presented as a work of nonfiction, her editors knew they'd struck gold. They wanted to believe her story, so they did.

Lastly this one from NYTimes suggesting Kafka was lying
In a telephone interview, Mr. Kafka was contrite and tearful. “I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “I’m very alienated from myself, but that’s no excuse to lie. I took someone’s life and selfishly turned it into an enigmatic literary parable.”

1 comment:

Marion Gropen said...

I'm not so sure that book publishers CAN afford to do the same type of fact checking that newspaper publishers do.

Book publishing IS in trouble because of the low level of profits. The industry is churning and thrashing in an effort to find a magic trick to change this, but it hasn't worked yet. And fact checking a non-fiction book is no trivial exercise. It seems to me that it would be much more difficult than checking quotes,dates, etc. in an equivalent amount of newspaper copy.

My rule: when you see a number of smart people doing something that looks dumb, the chances are that there is a hidden reason for it.