April 11, 2007

Fame has its privileges

Jack Shafer weighs in today on the issue of David Sedaris's exaggerations, giving me the opportunity to mention something I thought of a little while back. (Unlike Shafer, I live on Internet time, and assumed no one cared anymore by the time it occurred to me.)

I have mixed feelings about this whole thing. On the one hand, I'm among those people who always assumed that Sedaris told some stretchers in his non-fiction, and even if Alex Heard showed that he sometimes did a bit more than that, I couldn't get too worked up about it. Big fucking deal, right? (For the record, I don't think Heard got too worked up either; his piece was pretty gentle and understanding, all things considered.) (And while I'm in parenthetical mode, I'll mention that I used to be friendly with Heard several years ago.)

But something was gnawing at me, and eventually I realized what it was: Rodney Rothman.

Rothman was the writer of a very funny article that appeared in The New Yorker in November, 2000 called My Fake Job, in which he recounted his stint working at a tech company that had in fact never hired him. The shit hit the fan when it came out that Rothman had sexed up a few details and obscured others. Nothing major, just the kind of stuff that David Sedaris does.

Only Sedaris is still a New Yorker regular, while Rothman will never write for that magazine -- or perhaps any other -- again.

"It doesn't matter that this was a lighthearted piece," editor David Remnick said at the time. "We can't mix fact and fiction or change details without telling the reader. And it was important to come clean and apologize as soon as we were made aware of this problem."

As Shafer notes, "Most of the pieces cited by Heard come from an earlier part of Sedaris' career, before he was such a regular contributor to The New Yorker, which fact-checks even conjunctions, articles, and prepositions." But does the New Yorker fact check Sedaris's stories with the same rigor? Sedaris has made clear that he sees no problem with invention in the service of humor; Remnick has made clear that he does. Or is there one standard for famous, bestselling authors and another for first-timers?

See, Rothman was not a big shot when he wrote his piece. He came from TV-land, where he has since returned. Recently he also wrote a book called Early Bird about moving to a old folks' home (inevitably dubbed My Fake Retirement), about which the Times said, "Mr. Rothman suggested his book was best appreciated not as straight nonfiction but as personal essays that employ comic hyperbole in the style of David Sedaris."

If anyone feels like going through Sedaris's New Yorker output to see if anything jumps out as too good to be true, be my guest. Again, I'm not interested in burning the talented writer (or the magazine that occasionally sends me checks). I just want to know if Rodney Rothman is owed an apology.

Update: One other thing to consider is that Sedaris's fame actually does justify giving him more leeway, not because famous people inherently deserve to get away with more, but because readers already identify the brand "Sedaris" with a certain style of writing, so they bring the appropriate filter to anything with his byline. An unknown writer, however, is considered part of the "New Yorker" brand, which implies something more rigorous.

Update: Alex Heard says here that The New Yorker does its best to fact check Sedaris.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


With regard to the Rothman piece I speak from memory only, although my memory tells me it was very funny. But Macy's aside, I think Sedaris usually takes liberties with his family and his partner and French morticians* and other people who are unlikely to sue The New Yorker.

Of course, if The NYer hadn't apologized so quickly they might have held up Luminant in court with motions to suppress and so forth and in just a few months they could have owned the bastards.

(* Real-sounding but possibly made-up detail.)

(Incidentally, I don't think Luminant ever actually sued over Rothman's piece. I should have included a "threatened to" in there.)

Hi Daniel. Came across this while shamelessly googling for my name. I appreciated what you wrote. You're right, I probably won't be writing for the New Yorker ever again, but that's the extent of the embargo - most other publications have welcomed of my writing.

When I write nonfiction humor now I try to keep the taking of liberties to a minimum, and I'm as forthcoming as possible about the liberties I do take. I do still ocassionally take them.

To me, the genre of "humorous nonfiction" or "nonfiction storytelling" mimics the way we tell each other good stories orally - when we tell stories orally we may mess around with the timeline or tighten up what people really said, not to mention ignore any surrounding detail that doesn't help the main spine of the story. There's an accepted amount of "fudging" we accept in oral storytelling before we consider the story BS. It's never been codified but we know it when we hear it. The same standards should apply to written storytelling. If you're a nonfiction storyteller who keeps his stories within this accepted range, you deserve to feel guiltlessly proud of your work.

Much tougher standards should be expected of journalism, however. How do we draw the line between nonfiction storytelling and journalism? In the wake of various mini and major scandals, people understandably push for a firm distinction between them. That seems like a good idea to me. But my feeling is no matter where you draw the line or how bold the line is, a grey area will always emerge around it. As long as readers want the best, tastiest stories, as they have for a long time, the temptation to elevate story above all other concerns will be to great for the grey area to go away.

Boy did that last comment get away from me. What I meant to say was:

Thanks for writing what your wrote.

Sincerely, Rodney

Thanks for writing, Rodney. I think it's possible to indulge in the liberties you mention -- adjusting the timeline, tightening quotes -- and still have the work be considered journalism (though not "hard news"). The New Yorker doesn't allow this, but other publications do, and this is the extent of wiggle room I'm allowing myself in the book I'm writing -- though I'll be sure to inform the reader up front.

Then there's a level of fudging beyond that -- exaggerating or improving events, quotes and details -- that is allowable in humorous non-fiction storytelling, but should be considered distinct from journalism.

Usually I think it's obvious to smart readers which they're dealing with, but magazines that publish both could easily deal with any confusion by creating a rubric for storytelling that would distinguish it from reporting.

"nonfiction sells better than fiction" This is the problem. [Of course Rothman is owed an apology, his piece was accepted because it was funny not because it was reportage] One may well speculate on why, perhaps the angst caused by officialdom's permanent untrustworthiness, a rash of mass stupidity, or the childish need to 'identify' with everything one reads, but until that problem is fixed the borders between fiction and non-fiction will continue to be vigilantly, ridiculously, and inconsistently policed. Obviously the distinction should not be between fiction and non-fiction but journalism and literature. Are you telling a story to inform and illuminate a set of facts or are you telling a story to satisfy a more important need? I cringe to extend the mantle of literature to, frankly, most fiction but there it is. Call it entertainment or diversion or art but it isn't intended to inform about a set of facts and occurences (a condition, situation, or experience of man contingent to facts, sure). It may inform about about facts, if it's good almost inevitably, but that's not why it was written.

I appreciate Mr. Rothman's comments.

Whenever I read Sedaris' work, I hear a voice in my head of a very funny friend telling me a story, parts of which I know to be exaggerated. But I really don't care.

I place Spalding Gray in this category also.

Remember Spalding Gray's disclaimer at the beginning of Swimming to Cambodia: "Everything I will tell you is true, except for the part about the banana sticking to the wall." I'm paraphrasing. He could have said something completely different, but that's how I remember it. It might have been, "Not a word of this is true, except that the banana did stick to the wall." And Ahmedinajad says Pol Pot wasn't as bad as all that, and is willing to hold an international conference to discuss it, so, there you go, Roshamon.

I have met Sedaris and he is cute. Cute people get away with murder. And I mean cute. Not the classically beautiful murderers, who are always caught in the end.

I don't mean to sound like some kind of buzzword flinging jerk - but has no one heard of disintermediation? (For the record, I'm really sorry that I had to use that word, but nothing else would do) All of these “fiction v. non-fiction” scandals, as well as the plagiarism outrages that have occurred lately, seem to me to be caused by the acute anxiety that comes with the lack of adult supervision around what gets published and circulated.

Even people who should know better - editors and others - seem to have completely given up. First, James Frey's editors and agents (or whoever) persuade him to label his fictional manuscript as non-fiction for marketing purposes (remember, it was originally submitted as fiction). I ask you, if you were a first time author desperate to publish, what would you do? Then someone lets Kaavya Viswanathan rip off a *best selling* young adult fiction book. Anyone working in that genre should have recognized where the material came from. Her editors gave her manuscript less scrutiny than would the average high school English teacher. So who's at fault here? Not the author alone.

Rothman seems like a victim of a double standard, changing standards and the public anxiety produced by having virtually no standards at all anymore…

Not that I'm pointing fingers, but look at Tom Chiarella's "interview" with Halle Berry in this month's Esquire. In it, he turns the tables on the actress and has her write the story; he writes extensive footnotes, which read more like a novel than a reported story. Considering he admitted that he didn't have his recorder out and didn't take notes, how much of that story happened the way he said it? The way I read it, he either has the best powers of observation and memory I've ever seen from a writer or he fudged some things for effect.

All I'm saying is that in some forms of non-fiction require a bit of a suspension of disbelief on the reader's side. Humor is one form. And, I guess, men's magazine profiles are the other.

Sorry, I got cut off by a conference call. I was going to continue with something similar to Rich's point. Readers generally seem to know when they are reading something that needs to be utterly true and when they're not. It is these expectations that editors and publishers and authors need to meet, not AACR2.

Anonymous is on to something, too. There is a crisis of authority in publishing as in the church. When an institution feels it does not really have the authority to make new rules but is desperate to appear authoritative it overreacts to breaches of existing rules. Totally bad parenting and only slightly better publishing.

From Shafer's column:

>> I find stories that are absolutely true--like the time one of my neighbors, dressed up to party on Saturday night, fell into a 55-gallon drum filled with human excrement and urine--the funniest.

Oh, Jack. You slay me.

This one is simple:
If it isn't true, it's cheating. Period.
Whether the lie is in service of drama (James Frey) or laughs (David Sedaris), it's still a lie.
I can't even read Joseph Mitchell anymore -- one of my former heroes -- having learned that his unforgettable characters were composites. Now he's just another Janet Cooke to me.
This isn't self-righteousness talking; it's common sense. Tell me a funny story, then tell me, "Oh, by the way, some of that didn't actually happen." The bubble is burst. The surprise is obliterated. The magic is gone.
Plus, I think you're a dick.

Interesting point.

I'm only a new-ish New Yorker fan, so this may be an odd question. Was Sedaris already famous/branded when he first contributed to the New Yorker?

I think your "brand" point is excellent, and I only ask the question because I've been listening to Sedaris (on npr) long before his byline came with a known style. Presumably, at some point, Sedaris was an unknown writer representing some publication's brand. (Possibly, "NPR"?)

I'm not upset either way, and think that the term "memoir" has always implied something different than "autobiography".

Nuts. I've had people tell me stories that started to seem very familiar only to realize they were telling me a story that I'd told them years earlier. Usually they don't just change me to them but also make up other major points as well and in the end they were better stories and I was delighted. Plagiarism and lies and a better product.
Truth (or whatever) is absolutely vital in journalism and government and academics and business but in other places it can be a fop standing with arms akimbo across the path to general comity. Fact may have a certain "gee whiz" quality attached to it in storytelling but as far as I'm concerned it's often little more than a gimmick.

Molly - NPR made Sedaris famous (though for the record, his Santaland Diaries appeared first in The New York Press). He then wrote one or two of his bestselling books before becoming a regular at The New Yorker.

Please just tell me the Rooster is real.

Also, good comparison, Daniel. For what it's worth, the New Yorker stuff seems more real (and less funny) than the earlier stories.

I admit I have a hard time telling how much of this is real logic and how much is blind loyalty to Sedaris, who has made me laugh out loud more than just about any other writer. But I would still draw what I consider a crucial distinction between the Sedaris and Rothman situations.

As I remember it, there were two key problems with "My Fake Job:"
1) Rothman did not mention that his mother (or similar close relative) worked at the company, facilitating his ability to sneak in;
2) The overall point one might draw from the piece was that the company was ill-secured and uncaring about what was going on with its employees.
Here's the key thing, now: If #1 hadn't been deliberately omitted, #2 wouldn't have worked - and the whole piece would have had a different center of gravity.

Compare this to Sedaris, the main point of all whose stories seems to be "I'm kind of an asshole, and will never be happy no matter what, but I do meet some of the wackiest people." Does his exaggerating an event or combining characters change this point? I think not.

And not to get too contentious here or anything, but what version of Google is Rothman using? [blank entry as of this timestamp]

Hey, Daniel:

I remember you well from the old days at the New York Times Magazine. You were great to work with, and if I hadn't been so utterly powerless, maybe I could have gotten you some better assignments than those little squibbers we did.

You asked about fact-checking of Sedaris at the New Yorker. I asked them about this when I was working on my story, and it seems clear that they do their usual thorough job when Sedaris turns in a story that can be checked. (Like the one about his parents' art collection. Having been in the Sedaris pad, I can attest that that one was very accurate.)

But there are limits, as they made clear in their emailed response to me. If Sedaris is writing about something from 20 or 30 years ago, and he doesn't provide sources (like in a story that doesn't involve family members), they have to take his word for it. One example of a story like that is "The Girl Next Door."

Did he throw any high cheese past them on that one? I wasn't able to confirm or un-confirm that with "The Girl Next Door," which was nearly impossible to check because it involved fake-named people--a redneck mother and her bad seed daughter--from a long time ago. Sedaris told the New Yorker that he didn't remember their names. (But he did remember with distinct clarity things they said and did. Hmmmm.) He told me he remembered their *first* names. I'm pretty sure he kept journal entries about that episode--that was his habit by then--but I take it he didn't provide them with pages from this journal. The only other thing I noticed about that story was that Sharon's (mom's) smart-alecky dialogue sounded much-toned-down from the Sharon on display in the book Naked. Perhaps she mellowed?

One other interesting thing I noticed re the New Yorker was that Sedaris took a story he'd used in Naked--about being picked up hitchhiking by a grossout older couple who propositioned him--and repurposed it for use in a late 2006 issue of the New Yorker. The stories are different enough that one of them has to be wrong. I asked Sedaris which one was "true."

"The one in the New Yorker," he said. (Good answer.)

Generally, I think the New Yorker stuff is much more believable than the stuff in Naked. (Read the first few pages of "c.o.g." alongside the New Yorker story about Lou Sedaris almost buying a beach house and you'll see what I mean.)

This happened either because Sedaris's style matured as he grew older (quite possible) or because the sound of factchecker footsteps inevitably made him tone it down.


So it's okay for Sedaris to fabricate but not for Rothman to do so? Ron's omission does indeed change the tone of his piece, as does Sedaris leaving out that many of the wacky people he meets are not quite that wacky in real life. You say it's different because Sedaris' point is only to show how miserable he is and to share the colorful experiences of his life. But the real point of most of his pieces is to make us laugh (and laugh hard) at our common humanity. Something Rothman does well, too. Both authors write humor pieces and should be given equal room to tell their funny stories.

Rothman does write well, but I agree with Vance, that "My Fake Job" wasn't just intended as a humor piece, or an amusing anecdote, but as an expose on the insanity of corporate life while the dotcom bubble was bursting. If it didn't strike such a cord, it wouldn't have forwarded around so much, and probably wouldn't have been exposed. And I loved the piece, forwarded to everyone I knew, and felt honestly betrayed when I found out about his mother- that omission fundamentally changed the entire piece.

On the other hand, it could turn out that David Sedaris has never been inside a Macy's, and I'd still explode with laughter reading the Santaland Diaries. Probably if I worked as an elf, I'd feel differently.

But I would like to hear how Heard ranks Sedaris among other writers in the genre. Does he feel, like a poster above, that Joseph Mitchell should be discarded for his exaggerations and omissions?

"My Fake Job" differs from the typical Sedaris piece as follows: In "My Fake Job," Rothman describes the results of a prank/experiment he perpetrated. The premise of the prank/experiment: "Let's see what happens if I wander into a dot-com and pretend to work there." Problem is, he didn't just wander in. Plus, what's worse, he misreported the results to better fit what he'd hoped would happen. It's as though you were watching a hilarious episode of Punk'd, but then you found out that they went back and reshot Justin Timberlake's reactions because they weren't funny enough the first time. Rothman's piece was very well-written, but it derived 95% of its comedic power from its supposed truth. Just as fake Timberlake reactions immediately stop being funny when you find out they're fake, so do fake massages. This is not to absolve Sedaris. His comedy also derives much of its power from its supposed truth. But at least he tends not to go in with a prank premise, fail to get results, and then pretend that he did.

Has the world gone mad? By what mystical process, exactly, does a series of events become somehow imbued with "more funny" when they happen in the real world, exactly as described, and without interference? I can see how bad things are worse, actual people get hurt. But how are funny things funnier? This seems ludicrous (ha!) to me. Medieval.

I'm not a huge fan of Sedaris and I've never read anything else by Rothman but it is blankly true that, if judged on the work itself (remember the goddamned work? what are we, middle managers?), the Magazine In Question would be a damn sight better off each week with something similar than without.

What, do you feel fooled? Folger's Crystals!

You know 'Kenny vs. Spenny' is faked in part, too. I can prove it.

While we're at it let's slap a plagiarism charge on old Rothman. After all he was clearly ripping off Kramer's job at Brandt/Leland. Or Bartleby, that guy worked in an office, right?

Look, this discussion has degenerated into a sophomoric "what is truth in literature" thing...and since I'm not 19 and stoned let's try and bring it back to reality. Obviously, Rothman's piece captured a truth of the moment - people felt like it could be true otherwise it wouldn’t have gained the currency that it did. Even the fictional Kramer at Brandt/Leland captured some weird truth about the disconnectedness of corporate life at that point in time.

But the real question here is - were these pieces presented as fact and were the readers thus *deliberately* misled? Were we, the readers, cheated - and by whom? As I pointed out in my post above, editors, writers and the publishing industry itself all bear some responsibility for that sinking feeling of being duped, as well as the general freakiness around truth and credibility these days

Why doesn't someone just ask Rothman if he lied to the New Yorker about every fact in that story being true – then, case closed.

Coincidentally, (not ironically, did you hear me Alanis?), I saw Sedaris read last night. He kicked off the evening with a humorous disclaimer about the "truth" in his stories. Like all of his pieces it was relentlessly digressive, but he implicitly made two arguments.

Number 1 was that we should be me more worried about the big lies, like what got us into Iraq than what a humorous essayist is doing. (Despite just about everyone seeing the punchline on this point coming from several miles away, it got the biggest applause of the night, and this is in a deeply southern small city.)

Number 2 was something along the lines of don't trust any writer, which he illustrated with some James Frey references.

Number 2a was I'm cute and talk about essentially meaningless moments in life. James Frey (who wasn't actually named) was trying to puff himself to write about "big things."

It actually was quite funny, totally disarming and completely embraced. I feel like I should be madder about Sedaris obvious fibbing (see, I can't even stand to call them what they are, lies), but it feels pretty harmless to me. If he'd just shut up about how accurate and true everything is, he'd have been fine.

Nobody ever went and checked Jean Shepherd's essays on his childhood because he never insisted they were word for word true.

Lastly, I'm sad Daniel, old Modern Humorist that he is didn't take this opportunity to link to my My Fake Life parody created for their fake New Yorker website: http://modernhumorist.com/mh/0012/newyorker/fakelife.html

I remember thinking at the time that it should have been fairly obvious to any reader that Rodney Rothman's original had taken liberties. It was really funny, but way too perfect in hitting on the stereotypes and assumptions about corporate cutlure. The New Yorker was happy to blow that off because they had something that was actually fresh to put in their magazine, just like Frey's readers were happy to blow off the obvious falsehoods because it was a good story. The New Yorker threw Rothman under the bus.

I'd totally forgotten that parody, probably because I didn't write it. I imagine it was funny, but it's hard to tell, since I don't recall the original piece well enough. The rest of that fake New Yorker site actually holds up pretty well though.

Great little piece. I've been a NY-er reader for the past 15 years. I've always assumed that McPhee, Hersh, Hertzberg, & Suroweicki wrote non-fiction for the magazine and EVERYONE else wrote their version of fiction, which meant that sometimes the facts were dead-on and sometimes they were bent/puffed up to suit the story. If I discussed pieces written in the magazine by anyone other than the 4 writers mentioned, I assumed I was not talking about real events but interpretations, sometimes subtle, sometimes exaggerated. As one other person commented before, this Sedaris thing is like taking Spalding Gray's pieces as complete truth, a supposition that should not be made.
I read Sedaris' pieces and books not looking for hard facts; it's his style and his eye that keep my interest.

Bob Garfield is right. Writers and publishers know that invented or partially invented stories are more compelling if they are perceived as entirely true. The movie folks do the same thing but at least have the decency (or legal sense) to note when a flick is "based on a true story."

It's clear that the writing world needs some equivalant of "based on a true story." Otherwise, they're just lying.

I assume most people don't share DarkoV's misapprehension that there are only four NYer writers (and those four?!) who stick to the facts, but for the record, it's not the case. I've written for a lot of magazines and none matches the New Yorker in the rigor of its fact-checking process.

Comparing Sedaris with Rothman, Anonymous wrote: "This is not to absolve Sedaris. His comedy also derives much of its power from its supposed truth. But at least he tends not to go in with a prank premise, fail to get results, and then pretend that he did."

Yeah, he does. Or at least he did in Naked. The dialogue in the title piece, "Naked," sounds too good be true throughout, two people who were at the nudist camp when Sedaris was there told me they barely recognized the place from his depiction, and Sedaris himself fessed up to me--not voluntarily, but after I'd made it clear I had sources--that he'd made some things up, including dialogue and events. Almost everything he says about the event called "the pudding toss" is wrong, and the speech by the woman who lamented that it was cancelled the year he was there is all faked. (Yeah, I know: trivial stuff. But without a collection of enhanced trivial moments, a story liked "Naked" starts to become an un-story.)

He also sometimes "remembered" events from his childhood in a way that did not remotely resemble the reality. Go read "Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities," keeping in mind that virtually everything in there--the way the guitar teacher looked, what he said, and what he did--is made up, but is called nonfiction.

Or look at "A Plague of Tics." See all the hilarious moments during which teachers come to the Sedaris home to discuss David's weirdness over drinks with David's mom? None of that happened.

This does matter, because w/o those fabrications he didn't have a story to tell. And readers were often fooled, despite the oft-repeated claim that "everybody knows" when he's doing it. I saw many examples of interviewers or reviewers taking all those stories as 100 percent truth, and even lamenting that David had to suffer "homophobia" at the hands of people like his guitar teacher.

It's not correct to say Jean Shepherd did the same thing. Shepherd wrote short stories based on his autobiographical experiences, like Garrison Keillor does. With some of his stories, Sedaris wrote fiction and called it fact. Why? Because fact sells better these days.

Last thing: If Sedaris didn't see any difference between fact and fiction, why would he worry so much about getting sued? He told the Harvard Crimson several years ago that he begged his publisher not to use "Naked" in the book Naked, because he was worried about getting sued by someone depicted in it. (Of course, the story itself sounds like hooey--if he was so against using it, how is it that it became the book's title? I'm just telling you he said it.)

Oops, now I'm doing it. There's an error in my last posting. In the Crimson interview, Sedaris said his publisher begged him to leave "Naked" out of Naked, not vice versa. Sorry about that. I wrote his book editor to ask why the book wasn't fact-checked if they were worried about lawsuits, but he didn't reply.

Sedaris's lawsuit anxiety showed up elsewhere. For example, in one interview, he talked about the possibility of a lawsuit by the French teacher depicted in "Me Talk Pretty One Day."

To clarify, I didn't mean to imply that Shepherd did the same thing as Sedaris, or vice versa, just that Sedaris could've done what Shepherd did and still get all the benefit of people thinking it's non-fiction. If people asked him if the stuff in his stories is true, he could've just said that it's "true enough."

It's the cover up, not the crime.

At the risk of making this thing spin in circles a little longer, I would like to point out one small problem in TG Gibbon's "nobody gets hurt, so what's the big deal?" argument: What about the people Sedaris lied about? The nudists, the guitar teacher, and everyone else? And what about the employees of Luminant, who must've been surprised to learn that -- while they thought they were just patiently tolerating the son of one of their employees -- they were actually a bunch of dot-com idiots who couldn't recognize an interloper in their midst?

Yeah, yeah, in conversation, most of us will embellish one detail or another in a story, to make the story better. But there's a difference between that sort of one-on-one exaggeration -- which usually involves telling one person about another person they'll never meet -- and disseminating falsehoods about a person that'll be read by his friends and family.

I don't mean to make this seem like more than it is -- neither Sedaris nor Rothman are accusing anyone of murder or anything -- but it's not nothing, either. Plus, while I love Sedaris and Rothman's stories, I do think that there's something lazy and disingenuous in writing "non-fiction" pieces that play into your readership's biases and preconceived notions. ("Hey, everybody! Southerners really are all bigots! And dot-commers really are a bunch of mindless drones!")

And if you don't agree, well, then I'm sure you won't mind my sharing a hilarious story about this one time I saw TG Gibbon shit his pants in public. It was hilarious.

I'm torn.

As a former newspaperman responsible for writing our paper's columns, I never intentionally fudged the characters or facts of my pieces. I would have felt I was taking liberties that wouldn't have been appreciated by my readers.

However, having read Sedaris, I never remotely considered that every bit of his work might be factual. It simply would have been too convenient and too miraculous.

Do I feel cheated now to know this to be the case? Oddly enough, I do -- and I think it's because Sedaris chooses to work in "nonfiction" when he's clearly not. I'd also believe those writing him cheques would take kindly to a head's up on stretching the truth, but then, maybe Davis thought they were all in on the joke already?

Change your labels, David, and you lose your problems.

Oh, and Kevin? Nice on the French morticians.

If Sedaris has gotten more scrupulous about not making things up, that may explain why "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" is way, way less funny than his previous books. (Whereas I had just assumed that he'd burned through all the really funny anecdotes and was left with the dregs at this point.)

My point was never that nobody gets hurt. I said the categories are outdated and it is the job of those who impose them to police them and not the 'artists.' I also said that 'fact is funnier than fiction' is a fallacy.

Furthermore, Anonymous, while there were other people present I don't really think group at Dr Fischer's counts as public. See ya Thursday!

>>If Sedaris has gotten more scrupulous about not making things up, that may explain why "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" is way, way less funny than his previous books. (Whereas I had just assumed that he'd burned through all the really funny anecdotes and was left with the dregs at this point.)

I find "Dress Your Family" to be the most moving of his books. My beef with Sedaris is that he often goes for the moving moment at the end of his pieces, but the emotion is too often not earned and feels hollow. But in "Dress Your Family," these moments feel, um, "real." It may not be his funniest book, but I think it might be his best.

Is it too late to have Calvin Trillin arrested? I bet he never said half that stuff to Alice.

The point being, if Trillin and Sedaris spin yarns and call it their life, that doesn't have that much to do with someone writing an cheeky expose that turns out to be based on nothing. Fame doesn't really enter into it.

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