Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Does Book Publishing Revel In Hoaxes?

I came across a copy of Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds, a book by Melissa Katsoulis, a writer in London who has been published by the London Times, Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph, and the Daily Telegraph.  What an interesting idea – a book dedicated to book fakers.  Does it seem right that these hucksters, liars, and thieves get immortality, while legitimate authors are ignored or forgotten?

We’re not talking about unintentional plagiarism here, though that would be enough to express disgust at a sloppy writer, but a real crime – legally and morally.  There are people who intended to pass along fake stories, documents, and records as if the real thing.  The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, The Hitler Diaries, and The JFK Letters come to mind as high-profile hoaxes.

What about the ones we’ve missed?

Just as people get away with murder, rape, political corruption, embezzlement, and other crimes, there should be no doubt that hoaxes have gone undisclosed, undiscovered, and accepted as truth.  Others have manipulated the system, taken advantage of our trust, or exploited a weakness to deliver a book that was nothing more than fiction but accepted as unabashed gospel.

Memoirs tend to be the most common genre ripe for bullshit. These tell-all’s read more like tall tomes.  Many memoirs embellish or purposely omit things but all too many of these stories are filled with downright lies.  Remember James Frey, Michael Gambino, Margaret James and Laurel R. Willson and their memoirs?  All faked.

Why do people go to such lengths to practice such deception?

1.      Ego and pride
2.      Pursuit of money the easy way
3.      Mental illness
4.      For the fun of it
5.      Desperate for attention or sympathy
6.      Political manipulations
7. Seek revenge

Katsoulis says we need gate-keepers of truth but it is easier said than done.  She writes:

“The assumption that some kinds of writing are truer than others is not as straight forward as it might sound.  Can it categorically be said that novels are untrue and memoirs are true?  Surely not, as anyone who has basked in the wisdom of a great work of art (written, painted, or played) will know that the only way to convey what it is like to be alive is to conjure something aesthetically complex enough to approximate to our experience of reality.  Because reality, after all, is nothing if not a mystery.  Writers of memoir, biography and straight non-fiction have a more tenuous claim on the faithful transmission of truth than might at first be supposed because stories about people, places and events can only ever be passed down through the imperfect, partial minds of others.”

However, the author seems to appreciate the entertainment value brought by hoaxes:

“Books – whatever form they take – will always ask us to enter into a contract of trust with them.  For as long as there are publishers to bestow upon an author the incredible power of seeing their work in print, there will be writers who abuse, pervert, and willfully misconstruct the printed word.  But you only have to read the stories of fantastic literary hoaxers like Grey Owl or Romaine Gary to know that the world would be a much duller place without them.”

One can use their skill, profession, or even passion for the wrong thing.  It’s easy to abuse your talent.  We abuse our minds and bodies easily with all kinds of substances, so why would journalistic or book writing be any different?

The next time you read a book that’s non-fiction you may want to question its authenticity.  Some of those books need to be reshelved to where the novels rest.  Fact is stranger than fiction, and sometimes facts are fiction.

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” –Joyce Carol Oates

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life by Evan Hughes highlights the influence of Brooklyn upon its greatest writing residents, which included: Walt Whitman, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Normal Mailer, Truman Capote, Pete Hamill, Asaac Asimov, Bernard Malamudy, Bill Styron, and Marianne Noore.

“Part of Brooklyn’s richness as a site of the literary imagination, I think, lies in the very fact that it is not only a truly distinct place from Manhattan but a less exceptional one in the strict sense of the word.  More human in scale, less visually extravagant, not as wealthy or stylish, more suspicious of what is fashionable or famous, slower to hunger for the new – Brooklyn is more like America."

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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