Fabricated tale of gang life reaffirms the need to question “memoirs” that don’t make sense
For more than a year, this site has been raising questions about Ishmael Beah’s purported memoir of two years as a child solider, A Long Way Gone, that have received unsatisfactory responses from the author and his publisher. Why do critics, journalists and you, the reader, need to keep challenging aspects of personal accounts that don’t make sense?
One answer is implicit in a story in today’s New York Times about a young writer’s confession that she made up Love and Consequences, a widely praised book billed as a “memoir” of her life as a drug-runner for the Bloods: Publishers are doing too little to verify the authenticity of their books www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html. Book publishers have never done – nor can they be expected to do – the exhaustive fact-checking that occurs at The New Yorker. But the Times‘s story shows that they sometimes don’t take the much more basic steps that would be reasonable.
Love and Consequences was reportedly exposed as a fraud by a call to the publisher, Riverhead Books, from a sister of the author, Margaret Seltzer, who used the pen name of Margaret B. Jones. Riverhead is a unit of the Penguin Group USA, one of the world’s largest publishers. It seems that all an editor would have to do to uncover problems with this book would have been to require the writer to provide the telephone numbers of a few immediate-family members, then call those people.
[The Penguin Group has recalled all copies of Love and Consequences, and One-Minute Book Reviews will comment on the recall in a post later today.]