Today is the birthday of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, and a bunch of other books that no one pays attentions to anymore. He was born in 1882, nineteen years before Walt Disney. 1882 was the year legislation was passed in England that allowed married women to buy, sell, and own property, and to keep any money that they had earned themselves for the first time. Some women were allowed to vote in England in 1918, the vote was open to all in 1928. It took until 1920 for American women to get the right to vote. Both of my grandmothers vividly remembered the first time their mothers voted. It was not that long ago.
A jar of honey for the ladies, please, Pooh!
It is a cold and dreary day here, so dark that I have the lights on up here in my loft. I think I will light a few candles, too, and brew more tea. I will snuggle under an afghan and lose myself in research.
Two articles in the New York Times yesterday examined hugely popular memoirs that are proving to be fake. James Frey’s A Million LIttle Pieces is his story about his addiction and rehab efforts, told in excruciating, heartwrenching detail. (I read it and really enjoyed it.) Oprah chose it for her book club and it has been read by millions. It really is one heck of a story, and is very well told. But is it true? The evidence is piling up that it is not. Frey himself admitted he embellished details “for obvious dramatic reasons.”
And then there is the case of JT Leroy. The Times article said he was “young truck-stop prostitute who had escaped rural West Virginia for the dismal life of a homeless San Francisco drug addict” who is HIV positive. It was claimed that Leroy, with the help of a married couple, Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop, turned his life around and wrote three well-received novels based on his painful experiences. (I have not read any of Leroy’s work.) Evidence is now mounting that JT Leroy is a completely made up person and the books were written by Laura Albert herself. The person who appears in public (in dark glasses, a hat and wig) claiming to be Leroy, is actually Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey’s half sister.
These people really fry me. Why? The authors are lying. They are not content to let their work stand on it’s own. They have both dreamed up horrific backstories to make their work “more real” – grittier, and thus make their achievement of writing a decent book seem all the more astounding. It is a slap in the face of those people who really have endured the kinds of lives that these fakers are pretending to have gone through. And it is an insult to the reading public, a con.
I’ve been uneasy with the memoir genre for a long time, and Frey’s unveiling in particular, confirms the reasons for my uneasiness. Most authors (including me) use bits and pieces of their life as ingredients for their writing. But the point of writing fiction is that you make a bunch of stuff up. You find dramatic embellishments in your imagination. Memoirists like Frey want it both ways. They are too lazy to dream up an original story, so they lean heavily on the details of their own life. But they know that their life is truly not interesting enough for a book contract, so they throw in bits of fiction and pretend it is all true.
I guess I’m a purist. I love biographies. I love novels. When I’m reading them, I want to know where reality ends and imagination begins. I don’t like being conned.
Got in from the funeral last night…. it sounds strange to say it, but it really was wonderful. People from all different parts of Pop-Pop’s life turned out to honor his memory and that was a comfort to his family. A good life filled with love and service, and a good death. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Stef came back with us for a few days which means if she ever wakes up this morning, we’ll enjoy the last round of Christmas gift exchanging. Wake up, Steffie!!!!
Are you one of those women who hates looking at magazine covers because the models all seem inhumanely perfect and it feels like they are setting a standard that us normal chicks will never meet? It is all a lie. (Thanks, Stef, for the link.)
BH has gone to get the Creature With Fangs out of the Doggie Hotel. (We use Paws and Effect in Oswego, NY – we highly recommend them, if you need a place for your critter.) She has the fangs under control now… she needs a new name. I’ll work on that. I’m also working on my resolution. Will post that tomorrow.