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Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 2

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“The Case For James Frey: On His Imminent…And Needed…Reemergence”

I’m about to state what is probably going to at first be a semi- (very?) unpopular opinion. Here goes:

I think that James Frey is the best thing to happen to the Lit-World in years. There, I said it. Start your self-righteous clamoring for justice, truth, and all other things that make you feel better about yourself and your superior approach to life and living”¦now.

If you are a writer (which, judging by many of the comments I’ve read on Susan’s blogs over the past six months, most of you who are regulars here are, at the very least, thinking about aspiring to thinking about becoming writers), it is by now an inescapable fact that all writers…save for those already well-established and spitting out books every year to indiscriminate publishing deals…live in James Frey’s shadow. Many of us are resentful of this fact. Many of us have determined that James has manipulated his way into the fame and riches that all of us more righteously deserve. He was only rejected 17 times before he got his deal. We closeted narcissists who go by the moniker of writer have more righteously toiled over our careers via expensive MFAs and the drudgery of receiving hundreds of rejection slips like clock-work in the mailbox on a near-daily basis, right? My angle on this is: Who gives a fuck? As I’ve ranted here and elsewhere before, a major, MAJOR problem we as writers are facing today, due to rapidly declining public interest in anything resembling extended reading (the latest edition of US, PEOPLE or STAR does not count as actual reading), is that the publishing industry has decided to try to cater to what they believe are the tastes of those still willing to give a book a whirl. How? They’ve sub-categorized every genre of book until it has been classified to death. James Frey has single-handedly changed this outlook, and in doing so has increased, by an as-yet unknown factor, the likelihood that many more of us will actually see our books in print at some point. Because whether you admit it or not, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has gotten a million little consumers, who hadn’t picked up a book in years, to consider reading again.

Back when AMLP was first released in 2003, Frey made (sort of, for a writer, anyway) headlines when he publicly lambasted Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace and their ilk (I think it’s safe to lump Jonathan Saffron Foer in with these guys) for…well, he just didn’t appreciate their work. As James later clarified in an interview with the London Guardian newspaper this past September 15th, “I mean, it just wasn’t relevant, y’know? I think writers and artists in general come in two forms: there are thinkers, and feelers. And I think those guys are thinkers, their work is about the intellect. The intellectual gamesmanship, it was all about irony and postmodernism and it was very clever. And none of those things were things I care about. I care about what I feel and how I feel it. So I actually set out to do absolutely the opposite. Strip everything away. Make it not about intellectualism at all, make it about emotional heart. It’s like they were making conceptual art, and I’m making expressionistic art.” Call me James Frey’s bitch if you want, but he’s right. And while I did appreciate sections of Eggers’ A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, it just did not resonate with me the way that James’ book did. Nor did these other authors’ books resonate with anyone else who is the “target demographic” the way James’ books have. Simply stated: reading is like picking up a smoking habit; you either start young or you never start at all. And where Big Publishing has failed to cultivate new readers, James Frey has succeeded with flying colors. Although he most assuredly didn’t intend for things to happen in this manner, through such character-assassinating means, James has single-handedly (with the help of a venomous Oprah Winfrey and blood-thirsty 24-hour tabloid news cycle) brought millions of readers back to the table…a million little pieces become one. Shoot me on the pun if you want, you know I’m fucking right.

So this is the deal now. James Frey will soon be free of the gag placed on him due to the lawsuits that were inevitable following this debacle. He will then either be embraced or shunned by the lit community. Though I’ve told James myself that he couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. Because now that there is so much controversy swirling around him, he has sold more books that he would have in ten lifetimes, and his message has been received and welcomed by millions upon millions of readers. James Frey is the writer of his generation. We are all in his wake. He, with the help of his enemies, has leveled the playing field, has blurred the line between memoir and novel and remade the landscape to where it should have stayed…to the way it was during the heyday of the 20th century, when Hemingway and the Beats were writing. This is a good thing. We can all go back to being storytellers again. And give Frey his due as the elder statesman who sacrificed his privacy and his pride so that we could write in the environment we should have been able to write in all this time, without having to haggle over a book-deal based on whether or not the words we’ve written can be slid onto the “reality” shelf next to Survivor: Pearl Islands.

In closing, let me reiterate what Oprah Winfrey herself stated on the January 11th, 2006 initial James Frey appearance on Larry King Live:

“The underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of people who have read this book … To me, it seems to be much ado about nothing.”

Oprah got it right the first time. Most of us have not. Now is our chance to do the right thing, get off our high horse and give the man his due. Face it: They did him like Clinton. Read into that whatever you like.

More next time.

Talk soon.

Frank Daniels is author of the acclaimed book FUTUREPROOF and a founding member of the RiotLit Writers Collective.

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  • amy
    October 14, 2006

    Personally, I’ve never understood the to-do about Frey. When has memoir ever been considered gospel truth? Memoir is a genre of literature, it’s not reporting.

    And I really don’t understand why people need a story to be true in order to get anything out of it. If the story is good and interesting and moving, what does it matter if it really happened?

  • MOM
    October 14, 2006

    Thank God someone finally stood up for James Frey! What a travesty was perpetrated on him by the sanctimonious icon, Oprah. She lifted him up, and then body slammed him to the floor in a heartless maneuver that should have sent him back to mind-altering drugs. I’m rooting for him to come back and tell us what that felt like, and how he ever got through it. I loved his book, and felt like he was terribly mistreated. I wish he had stood up on the Oprah show after her unpleasant tirade and whipping and said, “&*%#@, Oprah!”

  • Ric Marion
    October 14, 2006

    well, this is interesting. Mea Culpa’s all around. I did something amazingly stupid, but it’s okay now.
    Shades of Mel Gibson.
    It is said all publicity is good – as long as they spell your name right.
    Mr. Frey sold a lot of books, but, in the final analysis, he did it dishonestly. I don’t think that helps.


  • Annmarie
    October 14, 2006

    I agree with everything you said. I read AMLP when it first came out and LOVED it. When he was ‘outed” I never had a bad thing to say about him. I still Loved his books regardless. I have read many memoirs where I have said no F’ing way did this happen, but it didn’t take anything away from the book. James book was amazing,and I would read anything else he ever writes. I hope that he can come back from this because he is a talent we can NOT do without.

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    October 14, 2006

    James Fey is a brilliant writer. He took us by the hand and led us into the life of an addict and made us feel the pain, denial, betrayal, resentment, and finally redemption. Isn’t this what good character-driven fiction is supposed to do? Except it wasn’t sold as fiction.

    Amazing as it is, we accepted it as a true story. We wanted to believe it, even when parts were so over the top that we shook our head in disbelief. We connected with him and commiserated with him. Then we learned that he made it all up.

    James Fey said, “I care about what I feel and how I feel it.” Me too. I am one of those who felt manipulated and betrayed. I would have liked the book just as much had it been shelved in fiction, but thinking it a true story made it more endearing. I think James Fey knew this would happen to a great many people. (a million little people?) This is where he intentionally …blurred the line between memoir and novel…” It was a brilliant stroke for marketing, but I don’t understand why the line needs to be blurred. I wear reading glasses so that my vision isn’t blurry, do I need some kind of corrective lenses to understand blurry literature?

    Oprah said, “The underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of people who have read this book…” I am one of those millions of people.

    And Frank, your pun’s a riot.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 14, 2006

    [insert LR standing on chair and whistling here]

    right on Frank!!!

    for what feels like years since the public lashing that was frey-gate on Oprah, I’ve held the line that human truth resonates, it matters not where it comes from.

    in a climate where Dan Brown is regarded as unearthing lost gospels, The Celestine prophecy turns into a self help movement and we are in a war over WMDs….I do not think the tone out there is about “truth” at all. Reality television is clearly scripted, culturally it seems that we have two roads on that one: we don’t care or we can’t tell the difference anymore. I hope……for the sake of finding someone to talk to in life; that it’s the first.

    The industry was in need of change. They just brought it this way. the JamesFreyJTLeRoyAugustenBurroughs-ification was bound to come along some day in a world of Divinci Coding Harry Potheads. We, as writers, had allowed them to make us mute in some ways. But now is time for all those things that make claiming the name Writer to become de rigeur again; time for the standing on chairs screaming, time for the food fights, time for the all night parties of words, time for the brushfire that becomes the blaze of intellect…..It’s about time that the expression “AMERICAN ARTS AND LETTERS” regained it’s value!!!

    we have had our greats; Hemingway, Keurouac, Cassidy, Fitzgerald, Thompson, Morrison, Miller, Selby Jr….the list goes, but pauses?

    Time to reclaim, it may just look like a brawl for a bit.

    [high-fiving Frank Daniels as I head for the coffeepot]

  • Daniel Scott Buck
    October 14, 2006

    Excellent, Frank.

    And I will say it again: The fact that nobody has called Oprah on her shit is astounding to me, and I wish that James Frey had done it then and there. I’m oh-so-sick and tired of watching those reporters, those reviewers, and those bloggers masturbate all over the subject.

    So I thank you for finally giving us something intelligent.

  • Brendie
    October 14, 2006

    Thank you, Frank, for sticking up for James… he absolutely deserves recognition in a positive manner. Oprah’s little act disgusted me and made me want to defend James to the upmost.

    One more thing; does it really matter how Lilly died? Point is, she died.

    Goodonya James!

  • Anneliese
    October 14, 2006

    The trouble with Frey was, and still is, that “A Million Little Pieces” was classified as “memoir.” Memoir is a genre to be regarded as truth, Fiction is a genre to be regarded as entertainment. “A Million Little Pieces” was entertaining, but it was not the truth. The danger in representing “AMLP” as truth is in the millions of addict followers who regarded the Frey experience as a path to follow, only to be let down when the story they were led to believe was false.

    THAT is simply the problem. Whether or not James Frey brings literary talent to the table is separate subject.

    To help further clarify, liken the “AMLP” controversy to the Janet Jackson boob flashing controversy. It wasn’t the tit that shocked Americans, but the venue in which said tit was flashed. With Frey, it wasn’t the lie of no novocaine that shocked readers, it was the memoir genre in which it was classified.

    If the damn book had fallen into a fiction category: Autobiographical Fiction, then this would never have been an issue and the book would have simply stood as an entertaining read. If Janet flashed her tit in a strip club no one would have talked about the incident.

    Frank Daniels wrote “They’ve sub-categorized every genre of book until it has been classified to death.” I disagree. It is not the general “They” that is to blame for the “AMLP” controversy, but James Frey and his editor who categorized the book as memoir, as autobiographical truth. If James Frey gives another literary offering in the future, after this gag order lifts, then responsibly decide which genre to categorize the book and move forward. There is nothing wrong with literature categories – they help a reader select which storytelling to be entertained by, or which book they may believe.

  • Lori
    October 14, 2006

    Amen Frank. Amen.
    Both of james’ books are amazing. They have helped Millions of people everywhere. End of story. Thank you Frank

  • LisaMarie
    October 14, 2006

    Kudos to you Frank!!
    I agree 100%!!
    Thank you for this!
    All the best!

  • Frank Daniels
    October 14, 2006

    Amy: spot on. Never should lit be held up to the standards of reporting.

    Mom: Love to see a grown woman (with children!) swearing at 9 a.m. It makes me smile. No joke.

    Annmarie: The sentence of the hour: “I have read many memoirs where I have said no F’ing way did this happen, but it didn’t take anything away from the book. ”

    Carolyn: Not sure how to respond. You say you are one of those millions of people who the book still resonates with, in agreement with Oprah’s initial stance on the matter, but then you also say that you feel manipulated and betrayed. So which is it?

    Lance: You’re my man. We have GOT to get together and go bowling. SOON.

    Daniel: Love having a fellow Wrioter in on this.

    Brendie: Couldn’t agree more.

    Anneliese: I couldn’t disagree with you more. And it has nothing at all to do with whether or not you like James or hate him, because I knew when posting this that I’d get a mixed bag of responses. The main problem with what you write here is when you say that “Memoir is a genre to be regarded as truth, Fiction is a genre to be regarded as entertainment.” I mean, the inherent flaws in this statement are numerous. Personally, I have gleaned way more “truth” from the fiction I’ve read than any of the so-called Memoirs. If you only read fiction to be entertained, then we must be reading different fiction and therefore don’t have much of a common ground so far as taste goes anyway.

    The differences between us a re further highlighted when you try to substantiate your argument by citing the Janet Jackson tit debacle. If there was ever a time that shit has gotten blown out of proportion by the media, followed by the government over-reacting to an ungodly degree, Tit-gate was it. And was also a great comparison between what happened to james and what happened to TV and Janet Jackson following that stunt or wardrobe malfunction or whatever you want to call it. It was a NON-issue. If you were actually watching that Superbowl halftime show (and who the hell watches the Superbowl half-time show anyway?) and had a coronary over the 1 second or less, 50-feet-away shot of Janet Jackson’s boob, the 16th Century is calling. It wants its moral outrage back.

    Lori: They have helped millions of people and continue to do so. Thanks for commenting Lori.

  • Mike Smith
    October 14, 2006

    You’re articulate and right on as always, Frank.
    What matters the most about Frey’s books is that they are so visceral and well written. And that’s all. I don’t care what genre they’re classified under, I will buy everything Frey writes for as long as he writes well.

  • Amanda
    October 14, 2006

    I support both you and James Frey…for it was James and his book, AMLP, that saved my fucking life…and led me to your book…FutureProof…I don’t really pay attention to all the bullshit that surrounds James and his story…I think its all a load of fucking crap…I honestly don’t understand why people want to make such a bug fucking deal about if this detail…or that detail was fabricated…who fucking cares…it has helped hundreds of thousands of people…like you Frank…Like me…addicts…struggling…for one more day of fucking sobreity…and if it wasn’t for AMLP..I would have given a shit about my fcuking sobriety…I would not be here writing this right now…sobriety would be the furthest thing from my mind….which btw…almost 5 months…so TY james…TY Frank…and TY to all of you I have met as a result of reading AMLP…HOLD THE FUCK ON PEOPLE….YOU CAN DO IT…..

  • XJessica THE NurseX
    October 14, 2006

    Oh hunny, you know I agree with you. Did you get to spend time with him while you were in NY? I honestly can’t wait for his new book to come out. I think it’ll be amazing as always. I like the point you make about emotions vs. intellect. I suppose there’s a time and place for both – but that is the reason I’m drawn to certain books – they have to grab me and speak to me. Very few writers have that effect on me, and if you can’t do that for me – I probably will never finish your book. Anyways, I’m glad your home safe! Talk to you soon.


  • girlgrey
    October 14, 2006

    i’ll never understand why oprah (or anyone) decided to lambast james frey for embellishing his art, when all that vitriol could have been used on someone whose lies sent millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives to hell. we don’t hold our politicians to their word in the news, but our artists are expected to keep to the unflinching facts?
    as for annelise’s comments: facts don’t make truth, anyway. ever heard of imaginary gardens with real frogs in them? [i didn’t think so.]
    i take offense at fiction being classified as “entertainment”. i suppose we had better stop reading, watching, or listening to absolutely everything, then, because there’s not one single source that i believe to be entirely factual, including my own experiences. humans are subjective, and there is simply no way around that.

  • Connie S. Pyle
    October 14, 2006

    I will continue to read all of James Fry’s books. He is brilliant!
    I lost two teenagers to drugs about 20 years ago. I felt their pain, but couldn’t help them in anyway. I wish I’d been able to give them James’ book! Truth or fiction, I could read and feel the truth between his lines. Many comments were comments that my children said to me.
    Since the turn of the century, have you noticed how people in general don’t like to feel? They would rather go through life being sound asleep, it’s less painful that way. When they are awakened with a book like AMLP, it angers them. Who likes to be awakened from a restful, calm, unfeeling sleep?
    I have given James’ book to many of my friends that are addicts or their children are addicts. Every single one of them told how much helped them. They are not the only ones either, it certainly helped me to have more empathy and compassion for an addict.
    Go James and Frank. More power to you!
    Warm love with much warm feeling
    Connie S. Pyle
    My pen name

  • Dan Martin
    October 14, 2006

    Yo Ric Marion. What would you say if you found out the publisher knew the book was embellished, and in fact pushed Frey to embellish it more? Remember, it has been documented that it went into Random House as a novel and came out being marketed as something else. Those aren’t usually writer’s decisions.

    As for the rest of it, Frank says it well when he says Frey got Clintoned. People hate him and did everything they could to bring him down. Let’s hope they fail.

  • jolene siana memoris
    October 14, 2006

    Who will defend truth?

    I’m self-righteous. There, I’ve said it. And it has more to do with “truth” in general than James Frey specifically. Over the past year I’m coming to accept the lack of truth that exists in the world. I plan to not let it make me a bitter or too untrusting but I’m still disappointed.

    Here’s a simple little question. Why didn’t James think about putting some sort of disclaimer in his book, something stating that not all events happened exactly the way the occurred in the book and that some characters were consolidated and such in order for the story to flow better and to fill in holes and such?

    A lot of authors have done this. Dave Eggers and Jen Lancaster, for example. That way when the truth came out, because most of the time it eventually does, people would have had a better understanding. I think it’s a problem to slap the word “Memoir” and “true story” on something, which is partially fiction.

    TRUTH DOES FUCKING MATTER. And, as a published memoirist I feel even more strongly about it. Everything in Go Ask Ogre has really happened and I was adamant about making sure it remained that way. Maybe I just got lucky because when I told my editor that I didn’t mind if complete sections were taken out but I preferred that the grammar and sentence structure remained the same. Pure and raw and TRUE, as it was written. I was so concerned about my audience that I put a self-injury warning for cutters because sometimes reading about traumatic events pertaining to abuse and self-injury can sometimes be triggering to self-injurers.

    I thought it was my responsibility to do so. Hopefully what happened with James’ book will change publishing in the way that it specifies what is true or not. I think it’s important to a lot of people.

    As far as James Frey’s intention goes, it’s clear that he wanted his book to be an inspirational book and that’s admirable but it just comes down to what I said before, I would only take a paragraph to explain that it was mostly true to prevent misunderstandings. I’m glad he’s continuing to have success with his book and I know a lot of people who love it. I haven’t read any of his work yet but I do intend to. I don’t dislike him or feel any animosity towards him. I just couldn’t put something out there and say that it was true if it all wasn’t just as I can’t serve a customer a piece of bread that has fallen on the floor. Some people can do this without a second thought.

    As writers, words are all we have in this case. What the fuck does truth mean anyway?

    I didn’t write this out of need for validation or approval. I just thought that having the perspective of another memoirist is important.

    I have to go serve people food and drinks with a smile now. I’ll check back tomorrow.

  • Claire Cameron
    October 14, 2006

    This reminds me, I must get around to reading AMLP.

    One more copy nearly sold…

  • Dan Martin
    October 14, 2006

    Frey has long said that he doesn’t consider himself a memoirist, he considers himself a writer. He also said he didn’t consider AMLP a memoir, he considered it a work of art. In the midst of the controversy, his publisher, Nan Talese, admitted that he had requested a disclaimer and she had made a mistake and had forgotten to put it in.

    It’s ironic that often those who scream loudest for the truth don’t know what it is.

  • jolene siana memoris
    October 14, 2006

    I’m not trying to argue or be catty. I’m just saying how I feel.
    Please show some respect.

    I said nothing disrespectful about anyone.

  • Joee
    October 14, 2006

    Frank (et. al)-
    I’m hoping from the highest distance hope can be afforded that this whole
    drama/controversy/ridiculous-ness can be put to rest. The fact of the
    matter- the bottom line is that James Frey wrote two of the best, most
    distinguished books of this decade. No one, not even Oprah and her bandwagon
    of ‘haters and doubters’ could argue that. Simply said, A Million Little
    Pieces and My Friend Leonard have more than captured an intrigued audience,
    we have been moved and inspired by his work. What then is the bullshit
    about, and more than that, why has it continued for so long?
    All my doubts and accusations (which I will admit, I had) were put to rest
    when I entered James’ site: Big Jim Industries and chatted with others about
    the books, addiction, overcoming whatever obstacles were in our lives at
    that particular time. And that, for me at least, is the point: recovery and
    moving on. I believe whole heartedly that James was honest about his
    addiction and his recovery…what else could any of us ask for?
    Time and time again in different social settings, I have defended both James
    and his work. Why? Well, I guess for a plethora of reasons, number one and
    most importantly because I don’t feel as though any one of us ever had the
    right to question what is plainly stated in A Million Little Pieces.
    I’ve pointed this point out before, and will do so again- a memoir is written
    from memory, based on memory. A biography is written from fact- having said
    that, I firmly believe both books should have been published as just that- a
    collection of sorts from memory and fact. And wasn’t it?
    So what is the big fucking deal?
    James deserves to be credited and received properly, not only from the literary world, but by anyone and everyone who has ever questioned his agenda and/or truth.
    James, you are supported and welcomed. Thank you for all that which cannot be defined in my simple words. You are respected and admired for all that you’ve been through these past months, and will continue to be so indefinitely.
    Frank, thank you as well for your words and this merry place where thoughts and truths can be spoken.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 14, 2006

    Well Dan is right, Jolene. I don’t think the point here is whether or not “truth matters.” We all want truth, and all (I like to think) strive for truth in our lives. But just because you insisted to your publisher that nothing be changed doesn’t mean that everyone else has to hold themselves up to the same standards of what you consider ultimate truth to be. Speaking for James (and of course I can’t say that this is what he’d say exactly), I’d say that he would argue that the greater truth of his books is what mattered most to him. Those truths being that you CAN be a drug addict and an alcoholic and someone whose life seemed to be for all intents and purposes forfeit and then make the decision that no matter what you were going to get your shit together. Now, yes, a lot of people in AA who have found that to be the only way to get straight have had a problem with this line of thinking espoused in James’ books, but there are many others who see this alone as the essential truth to what James Frey was writing INCLUDING OPRAH. At first anyway.

    Point is, I completely understand why you would want to stick to your guns about essential truths, but in my estimation this has nothing to do with the trajectory James Frey’s career has taken, and the things that happened to him. The truth will come out in the wash, and there are many things that simply can’t be elaborated upon now, but as I know it from what I’ve read extensively about the matter, James was fully assured that he was well within the normal boundries for what is acceptable in a memoir. And then, when the shit came down, he was hung out to dry.

    Also, regarding GO ASK OGRE, much if not most of your book is made up of letters written by you. Which means that there was no memoirizing at all to those parts, they were simply transcribed, so therefore you were in large part releived of having to remember exactly what was happening on what day and so on. But why does that make it to where James or any other “memoirist” is held to a much higher “remembering standard” than what could be considered acceptable by any person merely recounting a time of their life from memory? And more than that, if one considers oneself an artist–first and foremost above anything else–then why is it that details are held to higher standards that ultimate truths? After all, isn’t ultimate truth is what art is all about? It is for me.

  • Robin Slick
    October 14, 2006

    Yay, Frank! We’re on the exact same page here. Wonderful essay and a real pleasure to read.

    Err…you aren’t exactly overflowing with burning passion and energy when you write, huh.

    Ha ha. You wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that, would you?


  • Susan Henderson
    October 14, 2006

    Frank – Fascinating argument and a different twist than what I’ve seen before. I’m intrigued by the connection you’ve made to Clinton. Want to say more?

    Amy – You put your finger on what has bothered me more than any other thing regarding this controversey. Whatever you think about whether-or-how-far Frey crossed a line, it’s a silly thing to try to hold memoirs to journalistic truth. No one picks up these books to get a time line. They pick them up to walk inside the mind and heart of another person.

    Mom – MOM! How fun to have you here! And I agree that it’s a sickening feeling to watch someone get a public scolding. I think she had a right to tell him she felt duped and embarrassed, but I would have respected her more if she’d found a way to do it that allowed more dignity.

    Ric – Curious, then, when and how a person who’s f-ed up can come back to the table without being booed?

    Annmarie – Welcome! I remember, before all the controversey, how my mom called to recommend the book to me. For people who liked it, it was one of those books they just HAD to talk about. I think every writer dreams of a reaction like that from their readers.

    Carolyn – Thanks for such an even-handed comment. It helps to understand how that sense of betrayal happened.

    Lance – I wish I could articulate what I want to say here, but it’s an incomplete thought. But hey, my twin, maybe you can finish the thought for me. Anyway, I was thinking how this seems to be such an America in the 2000’s kind of controversey, and I’m talking about the campaign for truth and also the RAGE people felt over something like this. I think it says more about our times than anything else, just as Princess Di dying trying to escape the papparazzi seemed to be less about her and more about a bizarre time in culture. Okay, there’s my half a thought.

    Daniel and Brendie – Welcome to LitPark!

  • sherry wood
    October 14, 2006


    peopl relate to my books, which is truth in itself. fuck having an MFA. that has nothing to do with being a writer, just need balls and a heart.
    fuck all else.

  • teresa
    October 14, 2006

    Enough time has passed that people have been able to take a step back from Freygate and reassess the strong overreaction that followed it. It does remind me of Clintongate. Bill C. is just not seen as that much of a bad guy anymore. And so it seems, neither is James F. The good thing is that we are all looking and learning from our initial emotional and intellectual reactions to what happened. As a point of social anthropology, it is a worthy step to take. If we are to reclaim James Frey, then let his future work speak for itself. Give a writer fella a second chance. After all, it’s not like he’s the president or anything.—–teresa

  • Marisa
    October 14, 2006

    I absolutely loved James Frey’s books! They truly inspired me. I will always read any book he writes. To me he is an amazing writer and should never stop giving the world the chance to read such talent. I personally can careless about the controversy that happened with his book “A Million Pieces.”
    Nobody is perfect and we all are human. People make mistakes. People should just leave him alone. He was man enough to admit what he did wrong. So life goes on. To me he is brillant. He was born with a gift to write that should never be wasted!

  • Susan Henderson
    October 14, 2006

    Anneliese – First, welcome! I agree with you about Janet Jackson – it wasn’t what she did but where she did it. The Super Bowl was a big family event and my kids were watching, and I was kind of surprised. The funny thing is that my son, who was not many years from being breastfed at the time, responded to the whole thing by saying he was thirsty.

    I have to say I’m sorry that writers feel so boxed into one genre or another. Works of fiction are often largely autobiographical, and memoirs contain everything from intentional to unintentional mistruths. I’ve never much cared about the label given to the books I read. What I care about is whether I was moved by them.

    Lori, LisaMarie, and Mike – Thanks for your comments!

    Amanda – Welcome! And can I second your opinion about Futureproof? It’s an incredible book that gets your heart fully engaged and racing.

    XJessica – I am awfully curious about Frey’s next book. I only hope that he writes full-blast, like in the last two, and doesn’t get timid like someone’s looking over his shoulder and judging him.

    girlgrey – Yes, amen to more truth in politics.

    Connie – What a devastating story. I’m sorry. And thanks for bringing an important perspective to this debate, that AMLP might have been able to reach some kids that you couldn’t reach yourself.

    Dan – Speaking of truth, I’m awfully curious what really happened with the agents, editors and publishers in this story, but I don’t think we’ll ever know.

    Jolene – I’m so glad you’re here! I love your comment about the bread. And I really appreciate how well you’ve expressed your point here. I’m dying to read OGRE, and I will soon!

    Claire – When your book comes out, I’ll try to set off a controversey. Seems to work!

    Joee – I think it’s undeniable that his book reached out to an incredibly broad population – not just addicts, not just literary folks, but people who hadn’t been turned on to books in a while and so on. I think his book and Eggers’ book (despite whether these authors like each other’s work or not) captured something about the spirit/despair/thought process/etc of a generation will probably remain important books years from now.

    Robin – Burning passion? You think?

    Sherry – That’s fascinating to think emotion = truth because to some people it does and to others it doesn’t. I know a lot of stoics and they don’t seem to process the world the same. So you’re making me think that maybe part of the problem is publishers or readers or teachers trying to dicatate to any writer what he may write and what he may call the truth.

    teresa – I haven’t seen that to be the case (that people have chilled about Clinton or Frey) but I hope you’re right.

    Marisa – Thanks for joining the discussion. I second the fact that humans make mistakes and we should encourage each other’s gifts!

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Sure, I’ll elaborate on the Clinton reference. Clinton was doing a great job, all things considered, and I won’t get into all kinds of political talking points here, but suffice it to say that our country was enjoying a robust economy, we weren’t at war with anyone, shit was going about as fine as one can expect from a mainstream political party (don’t get me wrong, I have issues with Clinton like I do with either of the Republicrats’ offerings). Except that the Republicans hated that somebody across the aisle was doing so well and were willing to do ANYTHING to get him out of power including but not limited to a 6-year, 100 million dollar campaign to find absolutely anything about the man to bring him down. So they found out he got a blowjob. Then they put him on the stand under oath and asked him if he had gotten a blowjob. He lied, said he hadn’t. They whipped out a dress with his DNA all over, impeached him for lying under oath.

    So how does this relate to James Frey? Look at the specifics here: James had written a book that many many people had found a voice in. That many people took solace and strength from. Has ANYONE (with any real evidence or non-agenda) questioned James’ essential truth of being an addict who found the strength within himself to get his life back? No. Because the tabloid media could give a shit about little things like that. They set out to ruin this writer because he was ruinable. Same as Clinton. But I have a sneaking suspicion that both men will have the last laugh. James is going to be around for a while. The funniest part? Based just on book sales alone, I can bet anybody that he’s going to have a bidding war on his next book. Unless I can talk him out of even entertaining the idea. Unless they want to talk seven figures. He definitely has the readership to justify it.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 15, 2006

    Susan- Okay, For my special Wonder-twin of literatti, form of an expression of public outrage i.e….empowerment!! I still believe that we use the world of arts and letters to express those things we might otherwise go to the gallows for (yes, I’m well read but naive).

    so let’s look at the 21st Century so far:
    elections, terrorists, Sadaam, WMDs, Korean nukes, Karl Rove, the threat of Gay Marriage, molestation by priests, Darfur. (there is certainly more, but we all google our news anyway so I don’t have to go further)

    certainly plenty of room for outrage there. but let’s look again;
    elections- if they can be fixed what do we have left of our system? terrorist- how do we fight an idea and not a nation? Sadaam- was he the worst thing at the time? WMDs- did we actually baldfaced lie to the UN? Korean nukes- that’s still important right? Karl Rove- a trusted advisor? Gay Marriage- oh who gives a….? Priests-(I got nothing on that…..the name of the rose?)?? Darfur- most troubling, we’ve known for some time but no nation wishes to take direct decisive action?

    Now questioning too much above would in some societies and places in history be considered treason. It may still…..(check in on me weekly!!)

    A brief overview of the world leaves many helpless and confused. Enter James Frey. A man willing to step up and accept punishment for misleading the public. A public so often mislead with no one to hold accountable. But one fella willing to get up there and take his licks. As a society; I worry that if we had stocks in the town square James might still be in them taking lashings from every passer-by.

    Hey, sure we can all talk about James Frey and how much the truth matters; but I hear few talk about James Frey and the courage to accept responsibility. The man made a mistake in how he shopped a damn good book out. He let his publisher make it what it became. But, in the end the writer, the artist and the man didn’t disappear into obscurity, He stood in front of everyone and took his licks.

    Do you think we’ll get to see those responsible for the larger world do that anytime soon??

    was that what you were looking for Sis???
    I gotta say, I don’t hold back on half formed thoughts though…… 😉

    Frank!!- why an I stuck with the line from Grease 2 -“tonight we bowl!” sheeesh.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 15, 2006

    oh yeah, I almost forgot……

    why don’t this many people show up for my column?

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Controversy, Lance. Controversy. It always brings ’em in. Or at least gets ’em to say something.

    Tonight we bowl!
    Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling.
    We’re safe. We’re in the bowling alley.

  • Ric Marion
    October 15, 2006

    At the risk of pissing off Frank again (this is really a great essay, by the way), and Dan (who made a clear and important point), and James was clearly hung out to dry – but
    Nowhere did he say he embellished the facts, nowhere did he say he took creative license, just the opposite until it could not be sustained.

    Susan, I don’t have a problem with James coming back to the table – as Frank noted, he’ll probably do very, very well. And he should, he has a good voice and, it appears, a devoted following.

    And Frank raised the point that he brought millions of readers back to reading, something that can only be good for all of us.

    The fact that we may be looked on with suspicion is the part I don’t agree with.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Sorry. Looked it up. The last quote should read, “We’ll be safe for now – thank goodness we’re in a bowling alley.”

    Sorry. I’m a stickler. But that’s why you love me.

  • Greg Boose
    October 15, 2006

    “James Frey is the writer of his generation.”

    That sentence made me puke. Frey? Really?

    Now I haven’t published a book, so perhaps my comments don’t carry the same weight as other’s…but I do a fair share of reading…

    I think it’s great that Frey has gotten people to read again, but to put his name next to those of the Beats and then Hemingway? Fuck that. Totally fuck that. The Beats were counter-culture when they brought the playing field down. Frey seemed to take that spotlight and shine it, pre-controversy, through his nostrils like a little kid with a flashlight.

    When Burroughs wrote “Junky,” I don’t think he would have taken Frey’s touring road of public praise and ass licking. Nobody seemed to say, “Willy Burroughs is so brave to write about his poor life of drug addiction.” His book freaked a lot of people out, and I don’t think he wrote it to make a big buck.

    Frey wrote a heart-wrenching book about being an addict, and Oprah Winfrey put him on his shoulders. Then they used each other like a tissue.

    He got caught for lying and people LOVE seeing other people get the beat down. His name is surely out there, but not for the same reasons as Kerouac, HST, Hemingway, Eggers, or whoever.


  • Lance Reynald
    October 15, 2006

    well, as long as we’re taking this road;

    Daniels and Reynald are the writers of their generation

  • girlgrey
    October 15, 2006

    wow, lance, you’re not my twin, but that was what i was trying to say: that so much spite was ejaculated all over this guy, and for what? nobody WENT TO WAR because of his “lies.” and you’re right. nobody else in the public eye has taken their licks.
    come to think of it, i’m even reminded of cool hand luke.
    so maybe, greg, that is why people revere him as the writer of our generation. face it. people nowadays will not read unless: a) they are raised from the cradle doing so, or b) they are coerced into reading: ie. so many people are raving about the book they want to read it just to have something relevant to say at the water cooler. the fact that a writer of our times got people talking about a book (even before oprah, before the scandal, before taking his licks) is unfuckingheard of (sadly). and i admire him for that. lets take back the literary world from the intellectuals mentally masturbating themselves to oblivion in the ivory towers of literary critism and put the words back into the hands of the regular people on the street.
    i believe that is the point of the whole revolution.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Greg: Just checked out your myspace page and based on your friends and your bookshelf pic, I can tell you have impeccable taste. So let me defend my words only by saying that I stand by what I said as far as how I relate to James’ books over any by Eggers, Foer, A. Burroughs or Wallace. And while this could be a simple matter of taste, let me say that I see absolutely nothing wrong with James Frey accepting an invite from Oprah Winfrey. It’s every writers’ dream. Or was. Don’t see many that I appreciate taking that route now, even if it was offered. Again, Greg, I think you have great taste in lit, so I can’t say anything about what you’ve written here accept to quote The Dude: “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” And yes, what I’ve written here about James is my opinion as well. But mine is better. 🙂 And more than that, whether we want to admit it or not, in years to come James Frey is going to be seen as the writer of his generation, if only based on the popularity of his books. Which as I understand it is how they name those “Writers of a Generation” in the first place. Isn’t it based on the number of people the writer has reached, thereby speaking for that generation? James’ books continue to be bestsellers whether you think he’s cool enough to warrant that or not. I do.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    gg: You got the point of the revolution DEAD ON. Love you for that. And so much more.

    Robin: Feel free to borrow the enthusiasm anytime. MORE than enough to go around. 🙂

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Ric: If we are looked on with suspicion, it won’t be by readers. Readers want a good story. It’s the hacks in the media who thrive on the suspicion. If we write good stories, all the rest will come.

  • Juliet
    October 15, 2006

    I’d bought the Million Pieces before the giant O stamped herself upon its cover, and devoured it with great satisfaction. I saw Frey, in the dentist’s chair not as biblical truth, but as nothing more than a terrified little boy trying to look tough in the face of his fear. The same goes for his crimes and all that… a little boy embellishing his strength in front of bullies.
    After the O-down, I went out and bought six more copies for some friends. And then bought Leonard, which I also liked.

    What makes Frey a literary genius is the fact that his work is filled with the gritty emotion, desperation of self and undying hope that all of us, somewhere inside, resonate with.
    Which, I might add, is the same thing the big O tries to accomplish every day of the week.

  • Juliet
    October 15, 2006

    Further (great, now I’ve got this on the brain all day) I don’t think any of us who write fiction will ever be able to not have some version of self in our work (the character we wish we could be, the character we’re trying to purge from self, the person we’re ashamed to admit we are) any more than those who write non-fiction, historical text or otherwise could ever keep ourselves, our views, our feelings out of the story.

    I hope Frey writes a million more words, and I, for one, will be at the head of the line to support him.

  • Anneliese
    October 15, 2006

    Who is “boxed in” by genre categories? Not me.

    I appreciate the categories. Before listing my reasons why, I’d welcome to hear from Frank or Susan (or anyone) why they feel the genres box in people. I may learn something, or look at this a different way.

    I am not saying this with spite, I am asking for your definitions of why genre classification is not useful when supporting James Frey’s AMLP as a true, arty memoir. I am truly confused and will read comments to maybe see this a different way than how I view the purpose of using genres.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 15, 2006

    actually, I know Frank has a more clear argument on this point. But, genres are a relatively new thing to the world of literature. They seem to serve the marketing folks a bit more than they actually serve the writer. I think it’s somewhat sad to think of a writer that writes for a genre……what if you get in there and decide that your piece of well crafted chick -lit is actually better a family drama or period piece? I doubt that On the Road was intended as a beat manifesto or a Guys Road story…..I believe it was intended to challenge the prevailing trends, I also believe it a novel.
    as for what we call what;
    I heard once that Weisel always considered “night” to be his novel, yet universities still teach it as a memoir. who decides? who knows for sure? the publisher? the reader? the writer?
    I like to think that we all write books, good books. I also like to think those books will be embraced by people from all walks of life. Not one race, not one culture, belief system or genre.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 15, 2006

    Great points all, Juliet.

    As for why genres are shit: Let me clarify by saying that I don’t believe all books should just have titles and authors names. Obviously there are books written for a specific genre such as fantasy or mystery, but other than that, as this entire Frey scenario proves, these newer genres that exist now only serve to box in writers. Instead of being able to merely write books with good stories in them, we are forced to clarify whether what we have written is fiction or memoir or even autobiographical fiction. This, to me, is a slap in the face of every artist working in words out there. I can understand the need for slaking the public thirst for a certain genre that catches fire, such as the kids’ fanstasy genre in the wake of Harry Potter that saw a proliferation of all different titles to appeal to readers who had nowhere to go after the fevered three-day (or less) reading of each Potter book after it came out. However, when it comes right down to it, if you applied the screws to writers of say the Beat era the way the publishing houses do now, we might never have seen On the Road or For Whom the Bell Tolls, etc. Because while it could pretty easily be argued (and even supported with evidence) that both of these classics had substantial grounding in the real lives of their authors, “memoir is what is hot.” So, going back to James Frey, I think that perhaps what happened here with Oprah, and the media and even the readers, were all necessary evils because now the reading public has discovered that even if they did not think they would like a book that wasn’t a memoir (you’d be amazed at how many people I have met who’ve told me they read memoir almost exclusively), they can see that the term “A NOVEL” that is now slapped on every book not classified as a mystery, a “true crime”, a biography, etc—basically, anything that came from an artist’s imagination that may or may not have been based on real events–doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be able to relate to or appreciate the book.

    This is how James Frey has re-leveled the playing field–the reading field if you will. He’s brought readers back to the table and made them question a lot of what they thought were hard and fast rules about classification. A book (such as my own) can read like real life, can affect the reader like real life, and not necessarily have to be classified as such in the over-sub-categorization of literature.

    Side note: What is really interesting about Elie Wesiel’s NIGHT is that this was the book Oprah chose right after the Frey debacle, and she said it was a memoir, perhaps as a further slap in James Frey’s face. What’s interesting though is that for years NIGHT had been classified as a novel and when Oprah chose it Weisl and his publishers went out of their way to say that it was a memoir. Read more on this here:

  • michael r. williams
    October 15, 2006

    Great piece thank you Frank for standing up and going to bat. You have just hit a grand fucking slam, with this piece on James. Also thank’s for standing up to all of the mother-fuckers in our world of writing, you know what I mean right. I have just had a poem that is going to be published this Winter, and am scared shitless about this new world that I am just starting to discover. Publilsher’s and all of the other’s. Once again thank you.
    Michael R. Williams

  • Juliet
    October 15, 2006

    I worked for a publishing house for five years. We decide where a book fit, genre-wise, for a number of reasons:

    1. That whole library of congress filing system
    2. Marketability
    3. Marketability
    4. Marketability
    5. We, as publishers, had more than one imprint. So we would assess the book in reference to which imprint we wanted you under, which had largely to do with the talent you possess. And, of course,
    6. Marketability

    So, to wrap it all up nicely: a girl like me sat in a big leather chair, reading through your words and deciding what genre you were, pegged you based on where you belong, and how you’d make us, and you, money.

    (On the other end of things, as an author, I refuse to fill in the genre section on the library form every time.)

  • Deena Neville
    October 15, 2006

    WOW, what a write up Frank and it’s a pleasure to meet you Susan as well. I’m going to add my two cents here for what is it’s worth. I’ve always been a fan of James and his books…YES he has changed the ‘writing world’ forever and people know that. He has also changed people’s opionions on ‘how to’ or ‘what to’ do to get yourself sober and clean. I will always support his books and his/Leonards words I use daily..”Hold On”…

    PEACE all,
    Sunny D~

  • michael r. williams
    October 15, 2006

    Thank you Juliet as I am new to this all, I am writing a recovery based book of poetry, and am working on a novel as well. I am very happy that of all of the poetry that is being written one of mine made it to a publisher, once again thank you.
    Michael R. Williams

  • MGelman
    October 15, 2006

    James also changed how memoirs will be published in the future and many people will be skeptical about what to write now. I guess this makes for a honest read in the future when we purchase a memoir. Still the two best books I have ever have read.
    I’ll have to read ‘Futureproof’ and get back to you on that one Mr. Daniels maybe have to call you for an interview after I read?
    thanks for a great blog this week.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 16, 2006

    Ho man, what an interesting and looong discussion I missed today. Thank you to all of you who showed up to give your perspective. Regarding genre and ways that publishers categorize books, I just want to expand the discussion a bit because it’s not just about memoir vs. novel. For example, Maria D-H (someone help me with the spelling of her name), wrote a memoir called THE YEAR OF YES, but marketers decided it was a self-help book. I wrote a memoir that can’t be clearly defined as humor or parenting, but deciding on the answer to that seemed to be the most pressing topic for the editors who saw it. Why? Because they want to know what shelf to put it on in the bookstore, and often, there is pressure on the writer to do a major revision to push it into one camp or another. This may make books sell better, but I don’t think it necessarily makes them better books. It ties a writer’s hands to have to hit a single note or to revise in order to fit in a genre or make the back cover blurb easier to write.

  • Anneliese
    October 16, 2006

    So, if genres are “shit,” then would eliminating genre look like: one enters a bookstore, where one sees only Literature and Nonfiction as the two categories?

    Or would those two genres be too stringent, as AMLP can’t go in the Nonfiction? So further eliminate the two possible cateogories, of Literature and Nonfiction, and when one enters a bookstore to find a book, the label on the wall merely reads “BOOKS,” and one looks up a book simply by author name? This way we can find the “For Dummies” books and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” on the same shelf?

    Also, when one goes to write a review, would AMLP then be reviewed in comparison to “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Candide” instead of against “The Liars’ Club” or “Don’t Let’s Go To The Dog’s Tonight?” Review AMLP against any work of literature, or narrative nonfiction, or perhaps a “For Dummies” book, as opposed to be simply reviewed within the genre of memoir?

    Yes, I’m being silly here, but do you see my point, that genre classification needs exist for shopping, as well as critique, not just marketing?

    I’ll take my differing self away from here, and stop bothering any of you with my persistence. I accept that we truly differ in opinion. What I’ve learned from this discussion is that there simply are two camps of thought, those who think that James Frey “re-leveled (which is not a word) the playing field,” and those of us who think he did not. 🙂

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    October 16, 2006

    “For example, Maria D-H (someone help me with the spelling of her name), wrote a memoir called THE YEAR OF YES” –

    Maria Dahvana Headley – no hyphen. 🙂

  • Lee Crase
    October 16, 2006

    “These novels will give way, by and by , to diaries or autobiographies— captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experiences that which is really his experience, and how to record truth truly.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The above quote can be found at the beginning of “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller.

    “One of the great novels of our century.” ~Norman Mailer

    This quote is on the cover.

    “Tropic of Cancer” seemed over the top to me the first several times I read it. Only after I read the book, reread it, and reread it again did I read somewhere else that Henry Miller tended to exaggerate his stories. So, I read it again. Even though it is categorized as a novel, I wanted to believe that it was a memoir. I take responsibility for continuing to believe that the book is something that it is not.

    My only question about this media frenzy concerning Frey’s book is: Who takes responsibility for believing or labeling what it is or is not? Frey? His publisher? The public? Each individual who walks into the bookstore looking for something which is not their life?

    I didn’t care for “A Million Little Pieces” before all the current hooplah, nor do I believe N. Frank Daniel’s picture of Frey as the grand old guru of literature that we should all look to for guidance and inspiration. I alone am responsible for my perception, not Frey, not his publisher, not the marketing department, not the bookstore, and certainly not Oprah.

    If you liked the book, reread it, again and again. If you didn’t, don’t. A good book is a good book regardless of genre, but all this mess about labeling his book only reiterates the belief of whomever decided to mislabel the book as a memoir.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 16, 2006

    Lauren – Thank you!

    Anneliese – I hope you stay. I think you’re adding something important to the discussion! As a shopper, I know I like the little signs that say “you tend to like the books in THIS section.” I know because there are two sections I look at consistently. I also understand the marketing angle. But I do think it can cause problems for writers. Take THE YEAR OF YES again. If the author wrote it as a memoir, then she is only responsible to telling her experience in a compelling way. But as soon you put it in the self-help section, well, for one, I will never stumble upon it. But the other thing is then the book is held to a different standard. People then read the book expecting to be helped, expecting a list of tips, expecting a professional wisdom. I just hope there’s a solution where marketers don’t tell writers what to write. Re-writing books to fit a genre (which is RAMPANT in the business) just seems to go against the author and the book, and I think there are a lot of us here who want to stand up for change.

  • Juliet
    October 16, 2006

    michael r. williams—You’re welcome, though I fear my opinionation probably made the publishing world look a little crabby.
    I love my publisher, love love love them and know that they are out for our mutual good.

    Best of luck with your poetry!

  • Anneliese
    October 16, 2006

    Thanks Susan. I offer to leave because I respect that this blog seems to trend toward a certain thought regarding this particular subject, so rather than create internet(s) drama, I’d kindly bow out.

    I do like to offer my opinion on a subject, but have been stung by the internet playground where we are still finding a way to communicate, to be taken how we type our words and not as the receiver reads our words.

    Susan, what you write about “But as soon you put it in the self-help section, well, for one, I will never stumble upon it. But the other thing is then the book is held to a different standard. People then read the book expecting to be helped, expecting a list of tips, expecting a professional wisdom.”

    I totally get that – me too – I wouldn’t shop in the Self-Help if I’m looking for Poetry, so I’m grateful for the sections.

    You also wrote, “I just hope there’s a solution where marketers don’t tell writers what to write. Re-writing books to fit a genre (which is RAMPANT in the business) just seems to go against the author and the book, and I think there are a lot of us here who want to stand up for change.”

    Now this is where I have no personal experience and the notion is so ridiculous that I can scarcely believe it! So if this is what the genre discussion within the original post was generated, then please, pardon my ignorance that this practice exists.

    The book I am currently working on is part: anthology/history/geology/cultural perspective AND a shake of memoir! Hahaha, now how’s THAT gonna sell? I do see how it may be categorized and I’m okay with it. I am defintely not writing for A Specific genre. I love my book idea and I’ll go for it.

    Seriously, I think it boils down to just this: folks believed AMLP to be all true, turned out some parts weren’t, folks were bummed. The media inflated this, not folks. We shouldn’t monkey with the definition of “Truth,” instead, perhaps place a little note about parts may not all be true in the Author’s Foreward, as I think someone already suggested above.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 16, 2006

    I’m really not trying to fight on this one but…..
    the use of the word “shopping” seems to be the root of the problem.
    that is exactly why the marketing folks push books into genres in the first place, not reading, but “shopping”…..

    I prefer reading, and yeah I’d be happy to walk into a book store and find everything alphabetically by author. it would save me the ridiculous zig zagging through a bunch of genres that make no sense whatsoever to me as a reader and a writer. African-american lesbian studies, literature, health and healing and we can’t forget New Fiction and Staff Pics…… I can never find what I went looking for in the first place…..and the employees rarely know where it is without the computer…..?? but I think that arrangement is all about the shopping…’s certainly not dewy?

  • Frank Daniels
    October 16, 2006

    Pretty much out of gas on this one (for now anyway). Last items I wanted to address:

    “Re-leveled” is as much a word as any hephenated word with the prefix “re” affixed to it. Re is a great prefix, can be used with almost any verb. Try it sometime, Anneliese. It’s liberating.

    Michael: congrats on your poetry. Rock on.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 16, 2006

    leveled anew??

  • michael r. williams
    October 16, 2006

    Thanks Frank and Juliet, it is so nice to have a place to come and share with other writers. I am looking forward to getting to know other’s here as well. One of my fan’s said that I reminded her of Robert Frost, that really blew my mind, as he is on of my favorite poets. Thanks for the support.
    Michael R. Williams

  • Roy Kesey
    October 16, 2006

    Oh man, I’m late to the party again! Is anyone still here? Hello? I see some empty glasses, some peanut shells on the floor. Maybe everyone’s out back on the verandah and there’s time for a second wind? Hoping so:

    1. I’m all for counter-intuitive arguments. Lots of good things come of them, and occasionally great, important things come of them. Bravo to Frank for giving this one a run;


    2. If any of James Frey’s books have helped people in their real lives, up to and including actually saving those lives, then I’m glad those books are in the world;


    3. Did Frey really bring new readers to the table? I’m not at all convinced he did, but I’m perfectly willing to be talked down on this. Show me the numbers of people who, pre-Frey, didn’t read, and who, post-Frey, do, and I’ll back right down!;

    More importantly:

    4. James Frey is not the best writer of his generation. He is not in the top 100 writers of his generation. His sentences clink and clunk their way to obvious, predictable epiphanies. He is, in fact, Deepak Chopra with a few tattoos. (Not that that’s an unequivocally bad thing! Again, if his books helped people, then Yay for him and for them!);


    5. The fact that he is nothing more or less than Deepak Chopra with tattoos was obscured first by the massive sales of his first book, and then by the scandal that ensued when it turned out he’d constantly, publicly, vociferously lied about what kind of book he’d written. In fact, he built an entire public persona–one that made him very rich very quickly–by going on talk shows and harping on the importance of literal truth, which his books, it turned out, are rather short on;


    6. The fact that both his coronation and his downfall occurred on and through talk shows is nicely symmetrical;


    7. I absolutely concur that the blurring of genre lines can be (but isn’t always) a good thing, and I am deeply in love, to the extent that I want to kiss them all on the mouth, possibly with tongue, with the writers who do this in meaningful ways between the pages: Michael Martone, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer and many others, all the way up to the great modern master, W.G. Sebald. One of many reasons why Frey has no business whatsoever in this group is that he did not blur genre lines in any significant way within the pages. He only did so on talk shows. Which is what makes nearly everything in Frank’s essay deeply–almost transcendently–wrong;


    8. Frey (unlike Sebald et al) has done nothing to alter the Million-Little-Marketing-Boxes phenomenon. It has only encouraged publishers to ask writers of alleged memoirs to be a little more careful with their memories. All the same boxes exist as existed before, with perhaps the addition of a new one: Talk-shop Empowered Frauds (TEF.);


    9. That box probably already existed, we just didn’t know about it;


    10. If Frey comes back from this, and writes books that are actually good, then that’s all that matters–not whether or not he is embraced or shunned by any particular demographic. I for one hope that he does, because the world needs all the good books it can get;


    11. No list should end on Number 10.

  • girlgrey
    October 16, 2006

    and you guys didn’t even mention the trouble that writers have when it comes to the labels of children’s/adolescent/young adult literature. i think these labels are difficult too. you know the scarlet letter would officially go into adolescent lit? and the catcher in the rye. as well as to kill a mockingbird. and i’m almost embarrassed on the occassions that i have to browse in juvenile fiction – because i have to have my copy of harry potter as soon as it hits the shelves, even though i’m a fully-grown person.
    in regards to the sections in the book stores, i again agree with lance, with one exception: that table where they put all the books that are marked down. we cannot get rid of the reduced-price section.

  • n.l. belardes
    October 16, 2006

    People do need to riot about books.

    Or am I talking to the wrong crowd? You’re already rioting. You’re writers.

    I try to bring such a raucous nature to my blog. I’m the only novelist there. It’s a lonely war. I rarely get comments from writers though I review a lot of books… But that’s OK. People from all walks read books.

    How do you make a few thousand readers understand such views–that lit riots are necessary? Don’t readers just want a good honest story? It’s the common reader who is most duped by a fake memoir. Not us. We’re writers. Don’t we all understand marketing here? That truths are only in halves and thirds?

    Are common readers even angry?

    If Frey sold so many books could we suggest there may have been forgiveness and understanding on a readership level far from the filters at the top like Oprah?

    People get duped all the time. Maybe society understands that. Maybe people found such to be a fun game: to try to find the truth in the Frey memoir storm.

    And it isn’t like Oprah doesn’t go about duping people. She’s a damn actress. And she wants ratings.

    She’s a billionaire who wants common men and women to think they would react the same as she would. So she reacted to Frey like maybe she thought some Suzie homemaker might. Was she wrong since so many books were sold? Did her reverse dupe on Frey backfire? Is she duped by her very audience? A dupe upon a dupe upon a dupe?

    Yet there is a caveat. I experimented with a fake memoir and never heard of Frey at the time. I took some heat. Are there memoir subjects that are taboo?

  • BrookeND
    October 16, 2006

    Well Frank, I am sorry for having waited so long to post this. I read your my space blog and this article post a couple days ago and there was this one thing that has got me thinking the past couple of days.

    First things first though – I am glad you set the records straight, for whatever reason, about James Frey. I, along with many other people, believe in his writing ability and not the controversy that followed his publishing.

    There is something you said in this post “Because whether you admit it or not, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has gotten a million little consumers, who hadn’t picked up a book in years, to consider reading again.” I will be honest, I had not in about 7 years had even so little as glanced at a book to read. I didn’t care, I was too consumed in my art, in myself, in things that didn’t matter as much as reading a good piece of literature. Once I read both of Frey’s pieces I stumbled across your novel which brought me just as much pleasure, comfort and confidence as Freys’ novels. And since then I have re-read, or just recently discovered every Keruac, Hemmingway or Burroughs’s novels that I could find in my local book store. I needed something to shake me from the core and something to identify with in order to become interested again in literature. So I really feel truth in what you stated previously.

    We all know that in this day and age it is hard to come across talented artists who are in the mainstream – well to rephrase they don’t exist. Our music scene (pop-wise) sucks, and our literature isn’t nearly what it was 50 or 100 years ago and that makes me cry honestly. Now I am not a literature buff, I am only a painter and musician, but I know what moves me and what moves a culture. And I am just happy that you are here Frank, with the others promoting all of this. We need this. We need you guys. And I wish you only success in your movement. I feel a lot of truth in what you say…most of the time 🙂

    -Brooke N. Dressler
    Portland, Oregon

  • Kasper
    October 16, 2006

    “Juliet” made the definitive comment for me in this column about the acceptability of a book:

    ( paste)

    1. That whole library of congress filing system
    2. Marketability
    3. Marketability
    4. Marketability
    5. We, as publishers, had more than one imprint. So we would assess the book in reference to which imprint we wanted you under, which had largely to do with the talent you possess. And, of course,
    6. Marketability

    ( end paste)

    The point is to make money. Make money for the corporation.

    Cynthia Ozick in a recent NPR interview averred that a book like William Gaddis’s THE RECOGNITIONS, a great book in many ways, could never be published today–not enough “marketability.”

    Frank Daniels is correct about the blurring of genres, both as an observation and as a bit of invective.

    Not owning a tv and not watching one for over twenty years ( the grip of tv is so merciless on everything and everyone, including writers and publishers, I find myself having to reiterate this . . .) I was unaware of Mr. Frey and his struggles, as I am ( mercifully) unaware of Oprah Winfrey and her merciless corporate grinding.

    Yes, you’re all smiling, another sixty-plus curmudgeon giving vent to his disappointment at not making the NEW YORK TIMES whatever-list himself.

    But Frank Daniels is right: James Frey’s carefully conjured books deserve their fame. If JF is creating Elmore Leonard-like thrills with the undertread and subtext of a “scared straight” lecture by ex-cons in “juvie” hall, so what?

    Genres, like every other category– whether Jack-in- the- Box ads for steak sandwiches or rip-roaring Lexus cars on mountain roads making the private parts of speed jockeys stiffen as they dream of having their own — flashing through the Tetons, the “blonde” on their arms, passing the coke spoon . . .

    Genres are marketing tools,

    Like all the rest of it, as Thomas Pynchon would say: like “The Whole Sick Crew.”


  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    October 16, 2006

    Wow, Susan and Frank, great discussion here. Frank, if you’re still checking in, you posted in response to my comment:

    Not sure how to respond. You say you are one of those millions of people who the book still resonates with, in agreement with Oprah’s initial stance on the matter, but then you also say that you feel manipulated and betrayed. So which is it?

    There is no choice of one or the other here. It was an amazing book. The manipulation results from how the book was shelved. The book was shelved as truth, when it was pure fiction. It’s like a great wine that hits your tongue with passion and warms your throat all the way down, but leaves a bitter aftertaste. Now that the line between memoir and fiction has been blurred, I will be a more skeptical reader in the future. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 16, 2006

    girlgrey – Yes! How could I forget the Y/A category? I can’t tell you how many people I know wrote a book with a child narrator and then were told, well, if we market this book as a young adult book then just dumb down the book and take out all the shocking or adult situations that happen to this child so we can put it on that shelf.

    Okay, I’m truly impressed with ALL of you who joined the discussion. Thank you!

  • Melissa
    October 16, 2006

    The book touched me on an emotional level that I did not think possible by reading. I had lost my umph with reading prior to AMLP. AMLP and James reminded me why I love to read. On a personal level…it spoke a TRUTH I had not heard before. “They” cannot take that away from AMLP. James has a gift…I cannot wait for the return of Frey…It will be a great day!!!! Frank, thanks for getting the buzz up and going again. Hope to talk soon!

  • Kristopher Young
    October 16, 2006

    Memoir. Fiction. Fiction. Memoir.

    With any book worth reading, you can’t really tell the difference. We want good fiction to be real. And it always is, for the same reasons memoirs are always (always!) fiction. It is occurence filtered through perception filtered through time filtered through memory filtered through verse. In other words, it’s fiction. It’s fiction that we name ‘memoir’ to give it the illusion of truth – the type of illusion some readers need to further their own particular brand of suspension of disbelief. To make it hit home.

    But it’s fiction.

    So, as far as I’m concerned, James Frey is the good guy. So what if he pranked the system? We all know his name. This isn’t a defence of lying – I’m not advocating lying. But is a condemnation of the system that requires something to have a certain label to get published – the words are the same, readers. The words are the same… and that is the only thing that should matter to any author or reader.

    And while I’ve yet to read his fiction, I’ve heard from reliable sources that it’s good. Damn good. And good for him.

    I’m not sure people would believe me if I tried to sell Click as memoir. But that doesn’t make the fiction any less real… more of it is ‘real’ than I care to admit to, anyway. And even that’s fiction in the retelling.

    All the best,
    kristopher young

  • Frank Daniels
    October 16, 2006

    Wow, this just keep going. Glad to see it. I’ve got more to respond to:

    I know nothing of you or your work, other than the fact that Susan and many oters tout it at every opportunity. Good for you. But despite your obvious skill, you play yourself here with you 10 (11) points.
    1. Nothing I said is counter-intuitive about my argument. If anything it appears that you, sir, are in the minority with your own opinions–which doesn’t take away from them, but calling me or all of us out as being counterintuitive doesn’t hold water when you are the one grasping at straws.
    3. While I can’t provide you with empirical evidence that Frey brought many readers back to the table, I can say from personal experience that many many readers have come to me telling this as the case. And in further support of my original argument, many have told me that they read Frey’s book and then came to mine and kept reading. He has helped readwers to read again, regardless of whether or not you appreciate his “clunky” style.
    4-10. The rest of what you write here is telling and gives you away. YOU are the very jealous writer I was addressing at the beginning of this post. Are you trying to tell me that if Oprah wanted to pick your book you’d decline? My ass. Save it for the masses, but that shit doesn’t play here.

    girlgrey: huzzah for the discount tables!

    n.l.: great point about what the people want to read.

    BrookeND: Thanks for nicely illustrating my point to Mr. Kesey.

    Kasper: You’re my hero. Please contact me: [email protected]

    Carolyn: Glad you’re seeing beyond the initial emotions/feelings when all of this went down. In the end, the book has to stand on its own, as any book does. My only argument with you would be that NO fiction is ever PURE fiction. Anything that reonates with people has to have certain universal truths to it, and I obviously believe this to be the case with Frey’s books.

    Melissa: “it spoke a TRUTH I had not heard before. “They” cannot take that away from AMLP.” EXACTLY. Good to see you here.

    Kristopher: You’re exactly right. This is, in essence, a condemnation of the system that boxes writers in. No more, no less. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  • Roy Kesey
    October 16, 2006

    Um, Frank? The first sentence of your original post is, “I’m about to state what is probably going to at first be a semi- (very?) unpopular opinion.” In other words, you knew perfectly well that, in accordance with your general stance (and that of your brick-throwing icon,) you were treading counter-intuitive waters. And I’m all for that, when the bricks actually hit the right window. This one didn’t, but no harm done that I can see.

    And I don’t mind being in the minority, here or elsewhere–there’s a difference between that and grasping at straws, as you know perfectly well. And you don’t mind being in the minority either, judging again from that opening sentence and that icon. As it happens, you found an audience here that agrees with you and not me. Again: no harm done.

    And I repeat: if it is the case that Frey brought new readers to the table (and/or to your work), then that’s great!

    And I’m not sure what part of my post you’re referring to when you accuse me of being jealous of Frey, or if that’s just your default position whenever someone disagrees with you. Am I jealous of his bank account? Sure! Of the rest of the package? Not so much.

    I never said anything about my personal response to an Oprah blessing. The answer: baffled, but thrilled. Baffled because the odds are worse than lightning and from what I can tell my stuff isn’t quite her thing. Thrilled because, hey, monster reading base! Monster sales! My mom gets to see me on the TV!

    And because I wouldn’t have had to lie to anyone about my life or the nature of my work to get there.

  • Frank Daniels
    October 17, 2006

    Roy: Read the first sentence again. You yourself quoted it. It says, “I’m about to state what is probably going to at first be a semi- (very?) unpopular opinion.” Pretty much any declaration that uses the words “best” or “worst” is going to be met with some resistance. As you can see when reading the sentence, I wasn’t sure whether my statement that “James Frey is the best thing to happen to the lit-world in years” was going to be met primarily with resistance or the other way around. If you’d taken ten minutes to read the other 63 comments before yours, you would have seen that the great majority of comments were in support of my argument, and therefore nothing I said was counter-intuitive (and just for the record my “brick-throwing icon” is actually throwing a book).

    Secondly, I have no “default” position when someone disagrees with me. I take each disagreement and argue it for its merits or lack thereof. That’s forensics 101. Going back to your original 11-item comment, you spend no less than four of those eleven items insulting Frey (“He’s Deepak Chopra with tatoos”), making false depictions of him by saying he “built an entire public persona–one that made him very rich very quickly–by going on talk shows and harping on the importance of literal truth” (he never once–to my recollection–placed emphasis on the importance of literal truth. His books and he as a person have always claimed that essential truths were what is important…BIG difference.), and harping again and again on the fact that he appeared on talk-shows, even cutely coming up with a new “box” that he’d invented, as you called it, “Talk-show empowered frauds (TEF)”. You say that you find it nicely symmetrical that both his rise and fall occurred on talk-shows. And then you try to tell us that you never said anything about what your personal response to an Oprah blessing would be. And this is where I say YOU PLAYED YOURSELF. Your first comments wreak of jealousy. You spend all kinds of time harping on the fact that Frey was on a talk show, and then try to play it off that you aren’t jealous of him, saying that you’d be baffled but thrilled to be on the very same show you just leveled Frey with scorn for appearing on, as if being on the show alone calls any writer’s credability into question. Well if that’s the case (baffled but thrilled!), Mr. Kesey, then why the invective about Frey being on there? Because he “had to lie” to get there, right? That’s the entire point of my original post here. He shouldn’t have had to box his book in one way or another, memoir or fiction. His books are based IN LARGE PART on his life. At the time they were published, they met the acceptable industry-standard criteria for memoir, as far the percentage of “truth” in the books. And any self-righteous writer trying to tell me they wouldn’t have done the same thing, given the opportunity and assured by his publishers that the books only have to be 85% true is FULL OF SELF-RIGHTEOUS SHIT. Get over yourself.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 17, 2006

    Ooh, now Frank, I’ve known Kesey for a decade and I can’t think of a single instance where I’d call him jealous or self-righteous. You guys can wrestle this topic down to the ground, but no poking each other with sharp objects.

  • Juliet
    October 17, 2006

    Oooh, oooh, oooh, that Selfrightous shit comment made me smile a mile high and wide.

    And truth, especially in writing memoir, is always based on the author’s recollection of fact.
    And emotion.

    Seven deadly sins of memory always include not only misattribution, but also the “sin” of bias. We remember events based on their outcome, who we are now, and evidence of hindsight.

    It is all quite psychologically proven.

    Brings to mind the musical, Gigi and the song I remember it well

    He: I can remember everything as if it were yesterday.
    We met at nine.
    She: We met at eight.

    He: I was on time.
    She: No, you were late.
    He: Ah, yes, I remember it well. We dined with friends.
    She: We dined alone.

    He: A tenor sang.
    She: A Baritone.

    He: Ah, yes, I remember it well. That dazzling April Moon.
    She: There was none that night. And the month was June.

    And so it goes…

    (How did I get back to this)

  • Frank Daniels
    October 17, 2006

    You’re right Susan. I shouldn’t use pointy objects. I just felt that calling someone Deepak Chopra with tattoos–well, where I come from, them’s fightin’ words! You know what they say, you can take the_____ out of the ______ but you can’t take the…you get the point. No offense to Roy Kesey. Or anyone else, I hope.

  • Lance Reynald
    October 17, 2006


    (wow, now I’m all curious to see if the thread can hit 100.)

  • Roy Kesey
    October 17, 2006

    Sue: No need to worry, any damage done here is virtual, and soon enough healed.

    Frank: I stand corrected on the book v. brick issue.

    I stand really, really bored on the who’s-really-the-counter-intuitive-here issue.

    I wasn’t scorning Frey for, or harping on the fact that, he was on a talk show. My points:

    a. He was on the talk show to push a book that he claimed, in dozens of interviews before and after, was “all true,” and in which (speaking of the first Oprah interview) he said, “I think I wrote about the events in the book truly and honestly and accurately.”

    b. He was on the talk show in the interest of constructing (in conjunction with all the other interviews he gave) a public persona around his alleged dedication to said truth, honesty, and accuracy.

    c. He was on the talk show doing (a.) and (b.) in relation to a book that is built on lies. Three months in jail for “Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assaulting an Officer of the Law, Felony DUI, Disturbing the Peace, Resisting Arrest, Driving Without a License, Driving Without Insurance, Attempted Incitement of a Riot, Possession of a Narcotic with Intent to Distribute, and Felony Mayhem” is what the book says. Five hours at police headquarters for driving under the influence is what happened. This, to you, is truth? I’m not arguing for or against an 85% standard of anything. But this (and all of the dozens if not hundreds of documented others, some of them–like his appropriation of that train wreck he had no part in–far creepier) is laughable.

    You say that the entire point of your original post here is that he shouldn’t have had to “box his book in one way or another, memoir or fiction”. You know what? He didn’t have to. From the flyleaf of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants: “Sebald weaves together variant forms (travelogue, biography, autobiography, and historical monograph), combining precise documentary with fictional motifs.” That, Frank, is breaking down boxes in a meaningful way. But Frey chose not to, chose instead to go with “Memoir,” and without even the caveats that usually come when certain details–not to mention whole central scenes and characters–are invented or exaggerated beyond recognition.

    And why did he do that? Maybe he didn’t want to give up the sales (and adulation) that go with a story like his being fully true. Maybe he’d already started to believe what he’d written. I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter.

    Your self-righteous shit comments are yours to keep. And I’m done here. The last word’s all yours, if you want it. And in all seriousness, I wish you the best.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 17, 2006

    I just knew Lit Riot would be the best name for every second Saturday of the month.

    With great respect for EVERYONE who jumped into this thread, I’m officially exhausted and I’ll be turning my attention to the question of the week and a great musical guest who will be here tomorrow.

    If you want to continue the discussion on your own blogs, you can do a Trackback/Pingback so folks here can follow you there. Sound good? Excellent.

  • sarah breland
    October 21, 2006

    the main difference in frey’s book and the dozens of others i was given in recovery was violence. frey violently dove into the heart of an addict. he raged against the systematic 12 stepping prescription that is doled out to people who have systematically rejected these prescriptions their whole lives. his book helped me to realize that just because i wasn’t buying into the recovery chatecism, it didn’t mean i wasn’t gonna fucking make it. when people say that his book is sensational (as oprah did) and hard to believe, i know right away they are reading it from a different place than i did. there are many people who read the book and could believe every word….a root canal without novacaine comes pretty damn close to the hell of withdrawing from five years of daily dope use. if you can’t take it as truth, take it as a metaphor. and a damn accurate one.

    one last thing. as a writer, i’ve got to say after the hundreds of rejections i’ve gotten, i’d sell my work as a memoir, a novel, an autobiography, a book of poetry, short stories, or a text book. i’d take it any way i could get it. you don’t pick a book up because it’s placed on the shelf that most properly and convienently catagorizes your interests as a reader. most people i know read books because their friends, their teachers, their kids….people they fucking respect hand it to them and say, you should read this. it doesn’t suck.

    AMLP didn’t suck. that’s why people bought it, liked it, passed it on to their friends. maybe people who are dissecting it for literal truth are just a little bit scared they do suck. as for the rest of us who have spent a lifetime snorting glue, smoking crack, and shooting dope in hopes of finding a true feeling, AMLP casts a glimmer of hope that truth can be found in other places….like your heart.

  • Diana Higgins | Diaphanous
    October 16, 2006

    […] I’m reading Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics right now (I know, I’m bad about updating my sidebar) and I’m not bowled over. I was really expecting to be bowled over, what with all the hype about this book, and it’s made me take a moment to think about what it is about a writer or book that does bowl me over. I was working on this idea and having a hard time honing in that elusive quality that, for me, just clicks, and then I came across this post and while it seemed to be about one thing (James Frey) it turned out be about another (how different kinds of writing resonate differently with different kinds of people). …Frey made (sort of, for a writer, anyway) headlines when he publicly lambasted Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace and their ilk (I think it’s safe to lump Jonathan Saffron Foer in with these guys) for—well, he just didn’t appreciate their work. As James later clarified in an interview with the London Guardian newspaper this past September 15th, “I mean, it just wasn’t relevant, y’know? I think writers and artists in general come in two forms: there are thinkers, and feelers. And I think those guys are thinkers, their work is about the intellect. The intellectual gamesmanship, it was all about irony and postmodernism and it was very clever. And none of those things were things I care about. I care about what I feel and how I feel it. So I actually set out to do absolutely the opposite. Strip everything away. Make it not about intellectualism at all, make it about emotional heart. It’s like they were making conceptual art, and I’m making expressionistic art.” Call me James Frey’s bitch if you want, but he’s right. And while I did appreciate sections of Eggers’ A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, it just did not resonate with me the way that James’ book did. Nor did these other authors’ books resonate with anyone else who is the “target demographic” the way James’ books have. […]

Susan Henderson