Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book talk: Would you read a book by an author who has lied about the story?

Disclaimer: This column originally appeared on Women24.com

Earlier this year, and according to The Washington Post, a Christian book publishing house recalled a book called The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey, after Alex admitted to lying about his near-death and subsequent heavenly experience.

The book, Washington Post goes on to add, sold over a one million copies and chronicles the story of Alex’s divine encounters following a car accident that left him in a coma for two months.

There are, of course, many visceral reactions that have stemmed from his confession. What adds to the confusion is that Alex’s mother was allegedly unhappy with the book for months, and never agreed to meetings with the publishers.

I’m not surprised by this.

Not because the book’s been made out to be a lie, but because this isn’t the first time an author has lied about the contents of his/her books.

I mean, who can forget the memorable interview with Oprah Winfrey and James Frey, after it emerged that he fabricated details in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces (you can read a transcript of that interview, which includes a follow-up interview five years later, here)?

Then there’s Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri.

Now this memoir caused quite the scandal.  According to Listverse.com, in this book, Norma reveals an account of how she acted as middleman between star-crossed lovers, Dalia (from a staunch and traditional Muslim family) and Michael (a British officer who also happened to be Roman Catholic).

The inevitable happens: Dalia’s father finds out and proceeds to stab her multiple times. Norma, who obviously fears for her life because of her role in this, is eventually smuggled out of Jordan.

Except that this never, ever happened. In fact, not only did it emerge that this memoir was completely made up, but there’s actually proof that she wasn’t even in Jordan during the timeline of the events in the book.

Another more recent example is Zoella, popular YouTube blogger (she has over 6 million followers), who recently debuted the novel, Girl Online.  For up to months, this book has been marketed in such a way that it led her fans to believe that she was the actual author of the book.

Not long after the book was published, did Zoe (real name Zoe Suggs) and her publishers admit that she had a ghost writer.

Ghost writers are obviously nothing new (I mean James Patterson actually has a ghost writing factory as it is), but misleading your target audience into thinking that you wrote the book, especially when you are an online brand and persona who has specifically stated, and I quote from The Independent,  that it’s "always been a dream of hers to write her own novel," well, then things become a little murkier.

For me, this obviously begs the following question: if an author has revealed that he’s lied about a book he has written (even if it’s just some parts), would you still read it?

I’ve posed this question to my lovely colleagues and friends and there’ve been some pretty mixed reactions. Some flat out refuse to, while others, including myself, find ourselves a little more divided on the issue.

As a rule, I generally prefer fiction over non-fiction anyway, but isn’t fiction, in simple terms, a beautiful lie made to fit into a scenario that makes that untruth a fantastical reality (Although, historical fiction that aims for accuracy would probably be the exception here)?

And let’s not forget that often, in fiction, authors create characters that are unreliable narrators.

That said though, I get that readers get upset when they find out that information that is supposed to be factual has been exaggerated.  In fact, I’m definitely not immune to experiencing outrage when this happens.

No one likes being duped. And many readers feel betrayed by the author, especially if it’s a book that is a personal account that they can or do relate to (It’s particularly awful if an author uses abuse or addiction in any form to manipulate readers).

In fact, in these moments I think it’s safe to say that some people find it really hard to separate the author from the book.

Personally, I like to think that I fall into the category of people who would give the author at least one more chance (Unless the author is a complete and utter jerk about it).

We all tell lies at some point (and if you claim otherwise then that is a lie in itself); it’s just that some are found out, while others still lurking underneath the surface are waiting to find their way out.

I don’t judge people who choose not to read an author’s work because of the author’s fallibility; I just prefer to remind myself that I come with my own brand of flaws.

But, that's just me. What's your take on it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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