Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

It's dismaying that a book of this visibility and stature is clearly not up to the standards that an

Fact or Fiction, It's His Story </nyt_headline>

And on the second day, Doubleday shrugged.

Two days after an investigative report published online presented strong evidence that significant portions of James Frey's best-selling memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," were made up, the book's publisher issued a statement saying that, in essence, it did not really matter.

"Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence," said a statement issued by Doubleday and Anchor Books, the divisions of Random House Inc. that published the book in hardcover and paperback, respectively. "By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided 'A Million Little Pieces' was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.


"Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers."

As far as the charges, which were made by the Smoking Gun Web site, "This is not a matter that we deem necessary for us to investigate," said Alison Rich, a spokeswoman for Doubleday and Anchor Books.

Doubleday's response underscores the gap that has emerged between book publishing and the rest of the media, which in recent years have been under increasing scrutiny over the accuracy of their reporting. Other high-profile media outlets have been criticized for reports whose truth was later questioned, including Stephen Glass's fabrications at The New Republic, Jayson Blair's reporting for The New York Times and CBS News's reporting on President Bush's National Guard record.

According to police reports and other public documents unearthed by The Smoking Gun, as well as interviews the site conducted with people who encountered Mr. Frey during the events he describes in his book, much of his story is fiction. Though Mr. Frey in "A Million Little Pieces" and the follow-up memoir, "My Friend Leonard," paints himself as having committed numerous felonies and as having spent three months in jail after leaving rehab, The Smoking Gun said Mr. Frey himself acknowledged that those things were not true.

Rather, the report said, he spent almost no time in jail and was not charged with many of the serious crimes he claims to have committed. The Smoking Gun also quoted Mr. Frey as saying that he took steps to expunge the court records of his legal battles.

It is unclear from the publishing house's statement just how far Doubleday and Anchor went to confirm the truth of Mr. Frey's assertions before publication.

In an interview with The Times in December, Mr. Frey asserted that he had presented his publishers with extensive written records of his time in an addiction-treatment center, as well as medical records and other documentation. The statement that the book is supposed to be "true to his recollections" implies that the publishers did little or no checking. Asked about the discrepancy, Ms. Rich said, "We were presented with some documents, but beyond that I really have no comment."

Not everyone in the publishing world agreed that it was unimportant whether Mr. Frey's book is true. "Obviously a book that's called nonfiction has to be, in every fundamental respect, nonfiction," said Peter Osnos, the founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs, which specializes in nonfiction books, and a former Random House executive. "It's dismaying that a book of this visibility and stature is clearly not up to the standards that any reader would expect it to be."

But people in and around the publishing business acknowledge that memoirs, which have become an increasingly popular genre in recent years, have come to inhabit a gray area between fact and fiction.

"Calling something a memoir puts the reader on notice that it is a personal perspective and it is, by definition, skewed," said Alice Martell, a literary agent in New York, whose clients include Janice Erlbaum, author of the forthcoming memoir "Girlbomb." "Who is to say what is the definitive account of an event? By calling it memoir, you are saying: 'It is my take. I did not research this as a disinterested third party.' "

But William Zinsser, the author of several classic studies of the memoir genre, including "Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past," said the most important element in the genre's power is truth.

"I think that the strength of the memoir comes from history and from the truth of what people did and what they thought and experienced," Mr. Zinsser said. "That is more rich, more surprising and funny and emotional and compelling than anything that could be invented."

Several other parties associated with Mr. Frey and his books remained silent yesterday. The Penguin Group, whose Riverhead Books imprint published "My Friend Leonard," declined to comment. Sean McDonald, Mr. Frey's editor first at Doubleday and now at Riverhead, who recently signed him to a contact for two more books, did not return phone calls. Mr. Frey's literary agent, Kassie Evashevski, did not respond to phone and e-mail messages.

Also absent from the discussions is Oprah Winfrey, who devoted significant air time to Mr. Frey. Mr. Frey himself has been a fixture on the Oprah's Book Club message boards since Ms. Winfrey selected his book, posting messages under the name bigjimdorito and thanking fans for reading, offering suggestions and answering queries about aspects of the book, including whether or not certain elements were true. But he has not responded to any queries since the Smoking Gun report.

For their part, readers seemed divided on how much the revelations about Mr. Frey mattered. On Ms. Winfrey's Web site, reaction on the book club message boards on Monday ranged from staunch defenses of Mr. Frey to outrage at the possibility that his book is fictional. But as more time passed, even some of the messages that supported Mr. Frey contained a note of resignation.

"Why did he say it was all true, when it clearly wasn't?" wrote one reader, identified as moogs78. "I would have liked the book anyway."

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