The French have a phrase, spirit de l’escalier, or the wit of the staircase. At the bottom of that staircase, after a verbal drubbing, there comes to you the perfect, syntactically elegant retort that might have silenced one’s nemesis moments previous. Unfortunately, it comes to you several minutes too late.
Nan Talese‘s espirit de l’escalier surfaces a year and a half after her cringe-worthy Oprah appearance. Talese, publisher and editorial director of the Nan A. Talese/Doubleday imprint, quietly suffered her spanking — or, as Slate’s Tim Noah called it at the time a “televised interrogation” — at the hands of Oprah Winfrey and her studio audience over James Frey‘s nonfactual-memoir, A Million Little Pieces. A portion of Talese’s exchange with Oprah:
Q: (I)n a press release sent out for the book in 2004, by your company, the book was described as “brutally honest and an altering look at addiction.” So how can you say that if you haven’t checked it to be sure?
A: You know, Oprah, I mean, I think this whole experience is very sad. It’s very sad for you. It’s very sad for us.
Q: It’s not sad for me. It’s embarrassing and disappointing for me.”
From the Dallas Morning News:
Publisher Nan A. Talese took up a fresh defense of A Million Little Pieces this weekend, defending the “essential truth” of the discredited memoir — while criticizing Oprah Winfrey and her fans. Asked about the book during a session at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest on Saturday, Ms. Talese said her experience with author James Frey had not changed the way she handled memoirs. “I’m afraid I’m unapologetic of the whole thing,” she said. “And the only person who should be apologetic is Oprah Winfrey,” who she says exhibited “fiercely bad manners — you don’t stone someone in public, which is just what she did.”
— Ron Mwangaguhunga