January 10, 2006

Unbelievable authors

The recent revelations that James Frey's huge bestselling "autobiography" of his drug rehab, A Million Little Pieces, is tremendously exaggerated and that acclaimed writer JT Leroy doesn't, technically, exist inspired Tim Carvell to come clean too:

IT is with great sorrow, and no small amount of embarrassment, that I must confess to some inadvertent errors, omissions and elisions in my best-selling memoir, "A Brief History of Tim." ...

I am not, in fact, black.

Nor am I, to the best of my knowledge, a woman. Anything in my book that suggests otherwise is the result of a typographical error. That this error was compounded by my decision to pose for my author photo and bookstore appearances in drag and blackface is, I will acknowledge, unfortunate.

The portions of my book dealing with Depression-era Ireland are, I have been reliably informed, copied verbatim from Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes." I can only conclude that I accidentally confused my manuscript with my notes for my memoir in which I copied large portions of other writers' works, just to see how they were structured. In hindsight, the fact that I was born 40 years after the Depression should have been a tip-off.

However, Frey does have at least one fellow bestselling author as a defender. See how quickly you can guess who wrote this on his blog:

Hats off to Oprah

I don’t care what ... The Smoking Gun website say ... , I am a huge fan of James Frey’s book anyway.

I saw the book “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey at a bookstore the other day. I had never heard of it, except that it is the Oprah Book Club pick. I figured I would hate it (Anna Karenina is not my thing, for instance), but quickly glanced at the inside flap to see what it was about. ...That was enticing enough to get me to buy the book. It has radically exceeded my expectations. It provides an amazing window into the ravages of addiction. I half felt like I was a recovering addict reading it. I can’t recommend it highly enough...

It reads like fiction anyway. So unlike Freakonomics, I’m not sure it matters whether it is true or not. Others may disagree.

Steven D. Levitt

Perhaps Levitt can enlist Clifford Irving as his co-chair in a "Truth Schmuth Club to Defend James Frey."

Not surprisingly, Levitt and Dubner's column in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine "Hoodwinked" was an admission that much of their Freakonomics chapter "How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?" was phony :

"The greatest discrepancy is that many of the adventures that [Stetson] Kennedy described as autobiographical in fact seem to have been based on the efforts of a different man, a [Ku Klux] Klan informant named John Brown."

It's not terribly important, except as yet more evidence of Levitt's credibility. This whole KKK section of Freakonomics was blatantly irrelevant. It was completely non-quantitative and ancient history. Nor did it have anything to do with the chapter's subject of information asymmetries. Real estate agents have an advantage over buyers and sellers because they access to information other people don't. In contrast, the KKK had an advantage because they use violence, which, despite all their other sins, real estate agents don't.

I would guess that this phony KKK story got shoved in the book because the authors wanted to protect themselves against charges of other sections of the book being anti-black, and maybe Dubner had some unused notes from an abortive article about Stetson Kennedy laying around.

Levitt hasn't gotten around to admitting yet in his NYT column that his most popular theory -- that legalizing abortion lowered crime -- was based on two technical errors he made in his calculations.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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