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The Frey Area Exposed

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Amid the controversy about James Frey embellishing major details in his memoir – let alone JT Leroy being a different gender than that writer claimed to be – Frey has revealed a secret in the literary community.

That secret is that there is a gray area – or what I hereby dub the Frey Area – in every memoir. As Frey said on Larry King, according to the New York Times:

“I’ve acknowledged that I changed things,” Mr. Frey told Mr. King. But, he said, the events he changed totaled less than 5 percent of the book’s content, “within the realm of what’s appropriate for a memoir.”

Here are other changes in memoirs that most readers are unaware of, but are part of that 5 percent Frey Area:

Jarhead – The author didn’t actually go to Iraq but he did play violent video games and shave his head.

Angela’s Ashes – Author Frank McCourt isn’t actually Irish. He’s a black woman. But he read a book about Ireland once while at the dentist.

Personal Memoirs – Ulysses S. Grant didn’t write his own book – he farmed it our to Mark Twain.

Running With Scissors – The author, Augusten Burroughs, didn’t actually run with scissors since, as his mother noted, he could take an eye out. He instead walked with scissors. He did run with masking tape but that just did not have the same zing to it.

Assassination Vacation – Sarah Vowell is actually a direct descendent of John Wilkes Booth. She did not want to mention that before because it might skew opinions about her book.

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris is actually French and very heterosexual – his entire persona is a lie.

Oh and my name is not Scott. It’s Samantha. And you know that saying, “Life is what it is?” I wrote that.

And I pick all of Oprah’s books for her because she actually hates reading, preferring instead to play Grand Theft Auto.

Really. If you don’t believe me and do not like this piece I am sure you can get a refund.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • This is becoming the story
    that just won’t die,
    with this latest one on the status of adding disclaimers to the
    It seems to me there are three issues:
    His writing of the book
    and what happened post-publication.

    I’m less bothered by how he wrote it than how things were handled after it came out when
    people raised questions about the book and were essentially ignored.
    As that Slate piece notes, the publisher knew there were serious questions about
    some details of the book, starting with the very first paragraph of the book.

    It’s one thing for a memoirist to capture the essence of their story in their own
    way. It’s another to lie about whther questions have been raised about the book.

    And if you’re going to lie, don’t do it to Oprah!
    Anyone see the coverage of this last nite on the Daily Show and the Colbert report? Both
    were hilarious, especially the former where they contrasted the softball questioning
    of reporters of President Bush with Oprah’s tough questions for Frey.

  • Posted an update on the situation here, with new twists and turns.

  • Definitely. Thanks.

  • Very amusing. I especially liked the part about walking with scissors (you have to be careful with those things–they’re pointy).

  • It’s not just books: not only did I also run with scissors, but I wrote the musical-comedy “Funny Face” after I made a face and it froze that way.

    Hilarious article–thanks.

  • I think I deserve extra credit for getting a Ulysses Grant joke in and how often does one get
    the chance to use the terms heterosexual, jarhead
    and oprah and assassination in the same piece.

  • Thanks! It was awfully fun to write.

  • Funny, Scott – you have a potential career as a ghost writer/hack