So enthralled was I with A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, that I hopped online to purchase its sequel My Friend Leonard, as soon as I finished the book. Part of me believes in the potential merits of Ignorance is Bliss as a working life philosophy – and it’s this part of me that wishes I’d not stumbled upon the controversy encircling these books and their author.
I picked up A Million Little Pieces from one of those quaint little free libraries situated by the side of the road. And Oprah’s circular book club sticker adhering itself to the cover was almost enough of a deterrent to sway me away from taking it. While I realize, of course, that Oprah’s rubber stamp of approval would serve to inspire many people to pick it up – and in fact was what launched this particular book to stardom – it had the opposite effect on me, as Oprah’s massive branding of herself has always rubbed me the wrong way. Though, truth be told, I also sort of admire her for it, too.
After getting a few chapters in, I started to question as to whether I had the ability to finish the book. It was a gut-twisting, heart-rendering read. I felt as though I were being put through an emotional wood-chipper with every page. But I stuck with it, figuring since he had the wherewithal to tell his story of addiction and nefarious behaviors in such a raw and honest way, the least I could do was tag along and bear witness.
Once I figured out how to roll my eyes over his clunky and stylistic approach to the book, and compute with a growing semblance of understanding what is was he was trying to convey, I was able to immerse myself into his world and started thoroughly enjoying the read. I became invested in the people and plot line he was writing so starkly about. I looked forward to reading a new chapter each morning and was over-joyed when I discovered there was a sequel.
Mention of the controversy popped up as soon as I typed My Friend Leonard into the search bar on my laptop. Turns out, both books, while touted as memoirs, are not entirely true and accurate accounts of the author’s life. Artistic license was taken. Parts were fabricated. Big parts. And Oprah, needless to say, was not happy.
At first, the dude tried denying the accusations, brought forth by the investigative website The Smoking Gun. He even went so far as to say that his publisher had diligently fact-checked his book, which turned out not to be the case. Eventually the dude fessed up. He even went back on Oprah to be interviewed about the whole messy ordeal.
My Friend Leonard was gliding through the mail on its way to my doorstep as news of this controversy sifted into my consciousness. Knowing full well that I would not have given the first book a second glance, had I known it was either based or inspired by a true story, verses being a purely non-fiction read, I was off-put in light of this new information.
Does it really matter? I asked myself. I mean, you really liked the book.
Yeah, but I really liked it because I was under the assumption it was his story – his true story. I countered.
Hmmm. Well, maybe most of it is true. Would that help? I asked myself.
My internal musings and dialog has continued in this manner since ordering the sequel online a few days ago. Yesterday, amid two bills and a small blue card-shaped envelope, sent from a friend who recently traveled to San Francisco in celebration of her 50th birthday, My Friend Leonard was stuffed in the mailbox in a white bubble-wrap padded envelope. And this morning I sat staring at it, contemplating whether or not to read it.
I read the short Author’s Note 5 or 6 times – which is now required in both books and was not included in my original print copy of A Million Little Pieces – addressing the validity of its contents. “To call this book pure non-fiction would be inaccurate,” it states. “It is a combination of fact and fiction, real and imagined events.”
Given that I choose solely to read non-fiction books – and considering that the smarmy factor of this author guy is way high on the scale – I decided I just couldn’t bring myself to read part two of his somewhat-true-but-what-parts-it’s-hard-to-say story. So, I stacked My Friend Leonard atop a small pile of books headed to a local place around the corner called the Book Exchange, where they will gladly give me credit for it towards the purchase of a real book.
P.S In a stroke of humor-filled irony, also included in the pile of books bound for the Book Exchange, was a hardback copy of David Sedaris’s newest book Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002), which was such an incredibly disappointing slog of a book that I couldn’t stand to read any more of it. I tried. I love Sedaris so much that I tried really hard to like it. But apparently, to my delicate and discerning book pallet, Theft by Finding was too memoirish and, in this case, I feel strongly it would’ve greatly benefited from some serious James Frey action.