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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


When you start reading a memoir, you know you are stepping into territory that is going to be an intensely personal account of an even more intense personal journey.

I don't know how many Smoking Guns have revisited past memoirs to get at the truth. But they did go all out to find out the truth about James Frey's best-selling 'A Million Little Pieces."

As the controversy unfolded, as only controversies do, I wondered if this had something to do with success? After all Frey's memoir of alcohol and drug-induced mayhem sold 1.77 million copies last year. This was after getting the much coveted slot that so many authors can only hope for. The book had made it to Oprah Winfrey's book club in September 2005. That made it instantly grab the distinction of being the best-selling non-fiction book in 2005. Only J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince sold more copies.

Central to Frey's book which was published in 2003, is his assertion that he was charged with assaulting an Ohio police officer with his car. That's not all, there is also the admission of inciting a riot, possession of cocaine and drunk driving. These charges, he wrote, resulted in a three-month prison term.

But the investigative Web site 'The Smoking Gun' reported the book, published by Random House's Doubleday division, was full of exaggeration and inaccuracies. It added that most of those claims were not borne out by police records or by interviews with police and court officials. The Web site published the police officer's report of the key 1992 incident which shows Frey was found drunk in his car without a driver's license but did not, as he wrote, serve time for the incident or behave in the outrageous manner portrayed in his book.

What followed soon after was a series of reports and counter-reports. The first of the media reports said Random House was going to offer refunds to readers - something almost unheard of in the publishing world. Then followed the clarification that appears expected on Frey's website too. It clearly states "contrary to erroneous published reports, Random House is not offering a special refund on A Million Little Pieces." The author also clearly spells out his stands, mincing absolutely no words, "So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response."

Though of course, there would be further responses. Even as I write this, Frey is set to appear on Larry King LIVE on CNN, where he will expectedly spell his stand. With a Hollywood movie in the works, the debate that pretty much rocked the publishing world this week, is bound to stay. As the questions and counter-questions are raised, we are soon to discover that fragments of the truth may lie somewhere between the smoking gun and a million little pieces.

With both sides, sticking to their version of events, what the controversy has done is inevitably or inadvertently helped the book sales. The book remains the Number One selling book on

So that raises so many more unanswered questions: if so many people are buying the book in the first place, where did the question about the refunds arise? As a serious reader, I for one, would re-visit the book to check the veracity of events instead of lugging it to the publisher for a refund. And as a last word, isn't a memoir supposed to be a personal history in the first place which by definition would be a recollection of events as the author remembers them. Since the process of investigation is on, I'd like to see how many memoirs really stand the test of 100% accuracy. Writing after all, has always been about imagination and a little bit more. That's what takes readers on some rather exceptional journeys and a 'Million Little Pieces' just might be one.

Now, the ink has barely settled on this one and there's yet another issue rocking the literary circles. This time the US cult author JT LeRoy is being accused of something even bigger - a gender hoax. The writer's true identity has long been a cause of speculation and investigative journalists are now pointing out that the author of several critically acclaimed works is not the 25-year-old rent boy he claims to be. Rather he is a 40 year old man. Phew! I can already sniff another best-seller on the charts.