Discussion: When Authors Are Less Than Truthful

Thanks to the internet, we as readers are more connected to authors and their books than ever before. The internet has given authors and readers a new way to connect. Sometimes this is great, when we can email or tweet our favourite author and tell them how much we loved their book. Sometimes it results in ‘authors behaving badly’ when they read a bad review. And sometimes, it means we can find out when authors, particularly memoir/non fiction authors, have fabricated their ‘true’ story.

The classic example of this is that of James Frey, the author who went absolutely global when his ‘memoir’, A Million Little Pieces, was featured on Oprah’s Book Club, only for it to come out that not all of it was true. This of course enraged his loyal readers (& Oprah) who had taken him at face value, and caused his American publisher and agent to drop him.

Frey argues that his memoir of his days as drug addict is how he remembers it – talk about an unreliable narrator! But my question is: does it really matter? To the overall reading experience, does the truth matter?

I read A Million Little Pieces. At the time, I didn’t know about the scandal. I enjoyed it, thought it was a good read and I liked the voice. I was intrigued. It had the stuff a great literary novel has. After I finished reading and started Googling, my thoughts about the book overall did not change because it suddenly no longer belonged in the memoir section and should be in with the fiction. I even thought I might try and find what else he wrote. Despite the scandal, despite the fabrication of events, despite the lies. He wrote well.

I have also read A Child Called It (my review here) and despised it. Dave Pelzer has also been accused of fabrication in his autobiographical trilogy. I didn’t like any of the books that I read. Similar sort of thing, but completely different writers. As a book, even ignoring the ‘is it true or not?’ question, I just didn’t enjoy reading them and once I was done, I had no intention of reading anything by Dave Pelzer ever again.

So, does the truth matter? Does it change whether the book is good, well-written, has relatable characters? Not to me, I guess.

Frey is still in the book world (you may know him as Pittacus Lore, author of I Am Number Four and the subsequent series) and he has come under the microscope for other things such as unfair contracts to the other half of the I Am Number Four writing team and signing a two million dollar book deal for a series that sounds a lot like The Hunger Games. I’ve been keeping up with I Am Number Four, and I haven’t always enjoyed it. There’s been good books, good moments, and some not so good plus I despise Number Four, but I have every intention of seeing out the series. Should James Frey’s bad record keep me from enjoying his books? If I want to keep reading, does this make me a bad person? James Frey also has a publishing company, Full Fathom Five, responsible for books such as Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige. Should this change my intent to read that book? Because it hasn’t yet and Dorothy Must Die is still on my TBR.

Before I started using Goodreads, reading book blogs and keeping up with book news on the internet, I never would have known about authors behaving badly, shady book deals or authors being less than truthful. All I cared about was whether the book was good or not, did I like it or didn’t I, did I want to read more by that author based on the book I just read. The internet has opened this up for me and is posing some ethical questions that honestly, I am finding difficult to answer.  Because an author isn’t a good or a nice person, does this mean I shouldn’t read great books by them? All I’m interested in is reading good books.

Is this wrong?

What do you think?

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