In books, as in life, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In these seven stories, for example:
1. Redman Echoes, by Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance
In his fake memoir, Sylvester Clark Lance (who changed his name to the humble Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance) writes about his life as a Blackfoot chief’s son. His memoir was a smash hit, and turned its author into a minor celebrity. Lance gave lucrative speeches, promoted a shoe for B.F. Goodrich, and starred in a 1929 silent film. Unfortunately, it turned out his father wasn’t a chief—he was a janitor. When the truth came out, Lance was shunned by his fans. He committed suicide in 1932.
2. Papillon, by Henri Charriere
In Papillon, Charriere claims:
- He was wrongfully convicted of killing a friend and sentenced to hard labor
- He escaped and was recaptured several times
- At one point in prison he stabbed a snitch
- He was eventually sent to Devil’s Island Penal Colony
- He escaped the Devil’s Island Penal Colony on a raft made of coconuts
- He was then sent to a Venezuelan detention camp
- He was pardoned in Venezuela and became a citizen there
- He married and impregnated two teenage sisters
Wow! Compelling story! The following is true:
- Henri Charriere was convicted of killing a friend (and it is believed he was guilty)
- Henri Charriere escaped from the French Penal Colony in Frerich Guiana
- Henri Charriere eventually escaped to Venezuela
Charriere was going to publish the book as a novel, but his publisher convinced him to pen it as memoir, which he did in 1969. In 1973, his story was made into a movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. And in 1970, the truth came out.
3. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Readers were deeply disturbed when this book was released in 1971, because it was promoted as the real-life diary of a troubled teen who got mixed up in drugs and promiscuous sex and eventually died of an overdose. Turns out it was all a hoax. The book’s editor, a Mormon youth counselor named Beatrice Sparks, admitted that so-called memoir was actually the fictionalized diary of one of the teens she counseled. Sparks published other “real-life diaries” of troubled teens. Go Ask Alice is shelved in the fiction section now, but Sparks’ other books aren’t.
4. Honor Lost, by Norma Khouri
Norma Khouri’s memoir tells the story of her best friend, Dalia, whose relationship with a Roman Catholic named Michael led to her honor killing in Jordan. It turns out that Khouri (real name Norma Majid Khouri Michael Al-Bagain Toliopoulos) grew up in suburban Chicago, and much of her story was fabricated. She stood by her lies, even as they completely unraveled before a film crew who took her to Jordan to track down the truth for a news report.
5. A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey
When it turned out that James Frey lied in his book A Million Little Pieces, Oprah, who’d chosen the memoir for her book club, asked the author back onto the show, where he admitted that he was only in jail for a few hours and not 86 days, Lily didn’t hang herself, and he wasn’t involved in a train accident.
6. It’s Not About The Bike and Every Second Counts, by Lance Armstrong (Double feature!)
The former Tour de France cyclist finally admitted in an interview with Oprah that he cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles. Soon after, a public relations exec Rob Stutzman and cycling fan and chef Jonathan Wheeler filed a class action complaint against Armstrong, claiming his publishers violated consumer protection laws on false advertising and fraud.
7. Three Cups Of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups Of Tea told a beautiful story of Mortenson’s humanitarian efforts to “fight terrorism and build nations…one school at a time.” But author Jon Krakauer claimed there was something was fishy about Mortenson’s story, and a lawsuit later charged that Mortenson lied about how he built the schools as well as other events described in his books. Krakauer wrote his own ebook in response to Mortenson, Three Cups of Deceit (zing!).
What books are we forgetting?