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Oprah Orders a Large Frey

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 11, 2006 7:35PM

When Chicagoist had our first real job as assistant manager of a Crown Books, we quickly learned the power of suggestion…by Oprah. This was before she actually had a book club or anything. All an author had to do was to was go on her show and whatever book they were talking about was sold out by the end of the program. Soon, the women got wise and would call within the first five minutes. Books we hadn’t touched in months were flying off the shelves. When she decided to sell her own cookbook, we had to beat the housewives away with a stick.

We were glad we were out of the book business when Oprah started up this book club deal. We felt sorry for all the college students working for crap wages and stripped cover books at the Borders. We know how these things work. Just one nudge from Oprah, and everyone’s in a frenzy.

Or just one or two little lies. The Smoking Gun website, famous for great mugshot pics of your favorite celebs, has turned up dirt on Oprah’s latest darling. She had put the beloved book club on hiatus for awhile, and when she brought it back, it was with great fanfare. She not only had moved away from her string of classics, but she had picked a contemporary, non-fiction book that was raw, gritty, and had the f-bomb dropped all over the place. Not exactly standard Oprahland fare. The book in question? A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.


She and the Harpo staff had read it, and they just “couldn’t put it down.” They were in tears and gripped by this harrowing story of a drug addict and criminal who went through some nightmare experiences, went to treatment, and stopped using drugs and alcohol. And so she picked it as her first foray back to the book club.

Chicagoist sees it everywhere now: bus stops, on the el, in waiting rooms. We read it and the follow up, My Friend Leonard long before this whole thing went down. Most of “Leonard” takes place in Chicago, and it’s always cool to follow someone around the neighborhoods you’ve lived and breathed and walked around in. They were compelling and interesting tales. We liked them.

Now the real question has been raised that has plagued many writing the “creative non-fiction” book or autobiography (author JT Leroy is also facing allegations of fraud) – is this in fact, just a tale? Is this really just part of a life exaggerated and made out to be much worse than it really was to get us all on the edge of our seats, mindf*ked by what an incredible hellhole he was in and conversely, what a dramatic recovery he made?

What remains to be seen is what Oprah will do/say if in fact, she *was* scammed. Frey is going to offer himself up to Larry King next in his first interview since the accusations were leveled a couple of days ago. At least he didn't jump over her couch.

UPDATE: If you bought the book and want a refund, you can have one. Random House will refund anyone who bought it directly from them with proof of purchase, and you can try to return it to the bookstore you bought it with an invoice (that's a receipt, kids) as well.

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