§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Facts in Memoirs.

The conflict over whether A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is "true" in all its details is an interesting one. I haven't read it, by the way, so I'm only talking theoretically. If a memoir had to be fact-checked, the genre would fold up and die. How could you check the facts when only the writer was there or only the writer is still alive? How do you "fact check" your childhood memories? And if someone who was there tells you it wasn't exactly like that, haven't you lost some "truth" that you've built up about yourself over the year.

The kind of "analysis" you get in memoirs is often why you read memoirs! To get those memories (not the "facts"), to get a sense of how the person sees what "really happened". Who would write a memoir if he had to worry about every conversation he remembered? Right now there are libel laws, but that's all.

More important though is that in a memoir writer wants to explain what happened to him or her and uses whatever techniques are at hand to do so. The "million little pieces" of this title is not fact but metaphor. (I'm guessing.) No doubt the writer felt like he was fragmented into a million pieces.

Think about the stories you tell about your life. Can you honestly say that you haven't embroidered the tale to make it more effective? That you've told it the same way every time? If is, you're tales are probably not ones that people gather around to hear.

In fact the line between fiction and nonfiction--in the memoir area--is very very thin. Many writers of fiction use the same kinds of stories that appear in memoirs to develop a character and often writers create characters that are very much like themselves. I heard that the author of this book first tried to sell it as fiction. I wasn't surprised.

The controversy over this book shows me a culture with less and less imagination (same people forbid their kids to read Harry Potter), one that values imagination relatively little. I've no idea if this is a good book or not, but to condemn the author unconditionally for embroidering his experience or even making up events in a memoir is not only silly but sad.


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