If it's printed in a book, then it must be true, right?
In my opinion, I don't mind celebrity book clubs - if someone likes the way Oprah thinks, and generally agrees with her ideas, then getting a book recommendation from her might lead to just the kind of book that person will enjoy. To that I say, "Hurray!" Anything that leads to books being part of the national culture is great. In addition, a celebrity places his or her own reputation on the line when they endorse a particular book. The trouble for all of us comes when those books turn out to something other than what they advertised themselves as.
As a case in point, Oprah invited author James Frey and his publisher, Nan Talese, onto her show after evidence surfaced that his book, which she had very highly touted, was at least a partial falsehood. (Time.com, Dec. 2008) Oprah had her own reputation to defend after she had given the book high praise based on the belief that it documented a true story. To her embarrassment, this was not the only time one of her book picks turned out to be false. (Time.com, 2008)
The problem for us librarians is that, like Oprah, our reputations, and the reputations of our libraries, are tarnished when authors turn out to be tricksters who just want to make a buck. Libraries, even in an age when some say their usefulness is declining, are still among the most respected and trusted community assets. David Vinjamuri in Publishers Weekly says:
"They’re the most trusted institution in America. Compared to the findings of a Gallup poll on “confidence in public institutions,” a 2012 Pew survey found that libraries are more trusted than any other institution, including the military, churches, and the police." (Vinjamuri, 2015)
Wow. Humbling. One reason that libraries enjoy such a good reputation, I believe, is that books themselves are seen as true. Print is sacrosanct and people have a great deal of respect for it. Unlike speaking, print has staying power. Traditionally it has been difficult and time-consuming to get a book published, involving a lot of vetting, copy editing, and so on. By the time a book hits the shelf, people feel that it has had authoritative, professional, ethical, review. In this age of tweets and "fake news" and online trolling, there is less confidence in online information, but published books are still held in high regard. Authors and publishers that engage in fakery and other shenanigans in order to get their books sold seriously undermine that confidence for all of us related to the book industry.
As John Horrigan from Pew Research points out, many people turn to libraries to help them discern between "good" and "bad" information.
"...a majority reporting that libraries have the resources they need and play at least some role in helping them decide what information they can trust." (Horrigan, 2016)
What happens when we recommend books based on our trust in their veracity, and then that turns out to be false. We'll be just as embarrassed as Oprah, but without her resources to call an author up on the carpet. Our patrons will begin to lose confidence in our ability to vet sources, and we'll lose our good standing in the community. Worst of all, people will stop trusting books. Sad.
If your memoir isn't dramatic enough or interesting enough to sell, too bad. Sorry. Write fiction. Don't lie just to sell books or sell a point. Thank goodness for the journalists who took the time to find the truth.
And BTW, I have no problem with authors who make minor adjustments for flow or art or to protect someone's identity, although I think a little statement or disclaimer would be the best option.
Horrigan, J. (2016, September 9). Libraries 2016 | Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/
Vinjamuri, D. (2015, April 3). The case for libraries. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/66106-the-case-for-libraries.html