January 11, 2006

· Books

In her hugely successful memoir, Olivia Saves the Circus, Olivia gives a virtuoso account to her school class of how she single-handedly rescued a circus performance (all the performers were sick with ear infections, she claims) by doing everything herself. The book is replete with astonishing but true accounts of Olivia the Lion Tamer, Olivia the Queen of the Trapeze and Olivia and her Amazing Trained Dogs. At the end, Olivia’s teacher suspects something and the following exchange takes place.


In his hugely successful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, James Frey gives a virtuoso account of his life of crime and drug abuse. The book is replete with astonishing but true accounts of Frey getting a root canal without anesthesia, Frey involved in a fatal train accident, and Frey in jail for desperate crimes. At the end, The Smoking Gun provided detailed evidence that Frey’s “memoir” is in fact a highly fictionalized—not to say falsified—version of events. The following exchange takes place between Doubleday, Frey’s publisher, and the New York Times:

Two days after an investigative report published online presented strong evidence that significant portions of James Frey’s best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” were made up, the book’s publisher issued a statement saying that, in essence, it did not really matter. … “Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence,” said a statement issued by Doubleday … “By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.”

Olivia would be proud.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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