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Echoing Maureen Dowd, Arianna Huffington is exercised over the fact that James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces, now comprehensively exposed as fraudulent baloney, is still listed by the New York Times on their nonfiction paperback bestseller list.
I posted a comment on Huffington’s own site, but it doesn’t seem to be showing up so I’ll repeat myself here. This is a silly argument because calling a book “nonfiction” has never meant any kind of certification that its contents are true. Edgar Cayce books are “nonfiction.” Immanuel Velikovsky is “nonfiction.” Self-published tracts about how bees from Venus are attacking Your Child’s Brain are “nonfiction.” All of these are packs of lies. They’re also not fiction, which is to say, narratives put forth under the rubric of “I’m now going to tell you a story which I made up.” Yes, there are books which fall into a gray area. (Into which category would you put Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory? You have five minutes. Show your work.) A Million Little Pieces isn’t one of those books, any more than this particular pack of lies.
What’s more, as an editor devoted to the value of good fiction, I wouldn’t want the Times, or anyone else, to start using “fiction” as a dumping-ground for works of nonfiction which have proved to be full of lies. There’s a good discussion to be had of whether respectable book publishers should make a greater effort to ensure the basic truthfulness, or at least truthful intention, of work published as “nonfiction.” But using “fiction” as a synonym for “lying” isn’t the way to go.