Friday, January 20, 2006

Bestselling Bunkum

Snow this evening, beginning not long after dark. But for some reason, the usual blast of Arctic air that follows a major snow is expected to be diverted away from northern Illinois. Probably the hapless population of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula will get it instead. But they’re sturdy souls when it comes to winter.

Before the snow I visited a few retail establishments, and at one I thumbed through A Million Little Pieces at the check out line. Since I don’t keep up with bestsellers, or Oprah Winfrey, I’d only heard of it earlier this month, after word broke (via, something else I pay no attention to) that author James Frey followed that well-worn path called “making it up” when it comes to certain key details of his story, or even most of them, especially the narrator’s criminal exploits.

I only had a minute or two with the text, long enough to notice its eccentric capitalization and its aversion to quote marks. I also started scanning pages to see if, in fact, there were obscenities on each and every page. A sampling of about 10 pages found that there were. But none of these things really bothers me. Or even that this work of fiction is masquerading as memoir. True or false, a rehab story doesn’t excite my interest.

And if I ever change my mind, I’ll be able to find it at a thrift store in about a decade at a serious discount. Not long ago I was looking at the books available at a resale store not far from my home – and bought a real memoir, by Lives of a Cell author Lewis Thomas, for a quarter in paperback. I also noticed on the shelves a big-hairy-deal bestseller memoir from the 1980s “by” Lee Iacocca and an even more ridiculous book from the 1990s “by” Dennis Rodman. Fifty cents each in hardback, and not worth it.

Though only barely aware of the flap over Frey’s book last Saturday when I heard part of A Prairie Home Companion, I was fairly sure that Garrison Keillor was mocking Frey when he told one of his shaggy-dog stories about having a criminal past himself (I listened to it again on the web site, and did a little transcribing):

“I spent six years at Stillwater Prison,” Keillor said. “I’ve recently written a memoir about my life [audience laughs a bit], and a lot of really literal-minded people have attacked the details in my memoir [more laughter] such as my statement on page 15 that I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. [Laughter.] A lot of small-minded pedants went after me in a big way, but in a deeper sense it was true, every bit of it.”


Post a Comment

<< Home