A woman brings a manuscript to a book publisher, which tells of her early life as a Jewish orphan girl who is saved during the Holocaust when she’s adopted by a pack of wolves that protect her from the Nazis.
The prank played on the book publisher isn’t fictional, but the writer’s manuscript turned out to be exactly that. You’d think an editor would have checked out the story, but the ball was apparently dropped.
The author of “Misha: Memoire of the Holocaust Years” presented her memoir to Mount Ivy Press. It turns out, though, that she wasn’t adopted by wolves and wasn’t Jewish either.
Another book that was critically acclaimed and Oprah-magazine approved is “Love and Consequences.” In the work, the author tells of being of mixed race and becoming a drug dealer for an L.A. street gang. In truth, she grew up as a Valley Girl and is not of mixed race after all.
Her publisher ended up having to recall 19,000 copies of the whopper-laden tome.
Back in 2003, James Frey's Oprah-endorsed memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” was so embellished the publisher ended up having to cough up a million little refunds.
What in the world is going on?
Well, in my book-loving opinion, it all has to do with money, media, and morality.
Money: Authors are tempted to “juice up” stories and editors are tempted to turn their backs on aggressive fact-checking because books based on real life get more news coverage and more endorsements, which translates into more sales.
Media: In our modern-day media milieu, we’re inundated with tabloid print, “scripted” reality TV, phony documentaries, and historically wobbly films. The line between truth and fiction has virtually been redacted.
Morality: As values in society slide sideways, departure from the truth is more prevalent. We see evidence of this in politics, business and even religion, so it shouldn’t surprise us that prevarication would seep into the publishing world.
The law speaks of reasonable expectations of the consumer when determining whether or not a product is defective.
When a book buyer picks up a memoir from the non-fiction shelves of a bookstore, the reasonable expectation is that the content is true.
James Hirsen is a media analyst, Trinity Law School professor, and teacher of mass media law at Biola University.
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