About two years ago, author James Fry published a book entitled, A Million Pieces that shot up the National Best Sellers List with the help of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club endorsements. He followed up with a sequel entitled, My Friend Leonard. I am a sucker for a good memoir and read both of these books with anticipated excitement. Upon finishing the last page of My Friend Leonard, I closed the book, put it on the nightstand, and turned out the light by my bed. Before my head hit the pillow I woke my wife up by saying aloud that James Fry must have embellished this story, it didn't ring true.
Later that week I realized that I had had a "BLINK" moment, because The Smoking Gun (a website that regularly posts legal documents, arrest records, and police mugshots with the intent to bring to public light information that is damning, shocking, outrageous, or amazing, yet also somewhat obscure or unreported by more mainstream media sources) exposed James Fry's best-selling nonfiction memoir as being "filled with fabrications, falsehoods, other fakery." After learning my suspicions about Fry's books were at very least embellished truths or at worst shameless fiction, I quickly removed the books from my "Recommends" list on this blog.
A storyteller is a person who invites others to enter into the experience of a story. Barbara Brown Taylor's latest book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith does just that. Unlike the James Fry books mentioned above, her words about truth telling, public and private give you a window into both. Taylor shares her story of leaving a 15-year career as an Episcopal priest. Her honesty is striking and at times her descriptions are comparable to other great writers like Annie Dillard or Frederick Buechner. The following excerpts are from an address given at the Washington National Cathedral, June 7, 2006.
"If there are other memoir writers sitting here this evening, then you can take a little nap now, because you already know how it goes. The book you meant to write is not the book you write. You turn out to be even more narcissistic, melodramatic, and self-pitiful than you had reasonably feared. People who love you are willing to tell you this, which makes you even more narcissistic, melodramatic and et cetera. Finally, after you have written the book three times, ruthlessly wringing the necks of chapters you raised from baby chicks, you find that the writing heals itself as it heals you. The language runs clear at last. The flaws you can still see are not the ones in the writing but the ones in the mirror. You can look at yourself now with something closer to forgiveness than shame, so that a mere five weeks after you have sworn on everything holy that you will never, ever put yourself or your family through anything like this again, you are already thinking about the next book. Am I right?"
"One thing I discovered over the years was that the people who put themselves at risk like that—telling their story out loud, taking responsibility for their lives, making their private truth public—they were the ones who seemed best able to move on, while those who concealed their damage carried it around with them like an IV drip."