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Haven’t You Forgotten James Frey Yet?

jamesfrey.jpgAs the aftershocks from Oprah Winfrey’s latest book club selection roll out, the AP offers a totally unsurprising take on the subject: “If her goal was to erase the memory of the disgraced James Frey [left], then Oprah Winfrey couldn’t have made a better pick for her book club than a memoir by Sidney Poitier.”

That’s not just conventional wisdom, it’s recycled conventional wisdom; after all, last year everybody believed she couldn’t have made a better pick than a Holocaust memoir by Elie Wiesel—even though she made that choice before her relationship with Frey had completely deteriorated. Here, for example, is Alexander Cockburn in last April’s CounterPunch: “One can easily see why Oprah Winfrey and her advisers saw an Auschwitz excursion in the company of Wiesel as a sure-fire antidote to salve the wounds sustained by Oprah’s Book Club when it turned out that James Frey had faked significant slabs of his own supposedly autobiographical saga of moral regeneration.”

And that was a couple weeks after Ruth Franklin wrote in The New Republic, “Considering the circumstances, Winfrey’s endorsement of Night was a canny move: what could better restore her credibility—and the credibility of memoir itself—than a book that was ‘beyond criticism’?” Heck, even Joshua Cohen of BeliefNet commented on how Wiesel re-legitimized Oprah’s taste in literature after the scandal: “As public relations strategy, the move is near genius,” he wrote. “It stands to reason that Oprah might have been in need of a little credibility.” (There were similar quotes from less prominent sources, but you get the point.)

I’m going to throw my two cents in: If Oprah really wants people to forget James Frey, she should take the opposite tack and get an author who might do something so outrageous he or she will stick in viewers’ minds forever, the way you’ll always remember that time Crispin Glover nearly kicked David Letterman in the head. I like our friend Jessica Cutler for the gig, but maybe you’ve got other candidates…?

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