Yep, you've heard of it: A Million Little Pieces is James Frey's 2003 memoir (memoir: n. autobiographical account of an author's life that turns out to be a big ol' sack of lies) that rocked a nation of housewives to their very cores when Oprah first chose it as a book club selection... and then ripped Frey a new one on national TV after finding out that the majority of this memoir was completely made up.
That's right: this book is the biggest fantasy novel since Harry Potter, and it doesn't even have any hippogriffs.
James Frey's story of triumphing over addiction garnered pages of critical acclaim—every square inch of the book's first few pages is crammed with glowing blurbs—and it inspired millions of readers. The story goes that after Frey was told that if he used drugs just one more time, he would die, he decided to stop. Just like that. Along the way, he met some mobsters and fell in love, all within the halls of the Hazelden rehab clinic.
How inspirational, right? Right? Well, the problem is that most of this didn't happen. When the Smoking Gun website went in search of James Frey's mug shots (there's an idea for your next scrapbooking project), they couldn't find evidence of most of his crimes. When Oprah caught wind that she'd been had, she was not happy. And when Oprah's not happy, no one is happy.
Frey went from top of the bestseller charts to top of many people's Do Not Read list.
Although Oprah and many journalists condemned Frey, some fans still stand up for him—check out the book's Amazon reviews if you don't believe us. After all, fiction can be just as emotionally moving and life changing as nonfiction, right?
So try to forget about the controversy (or hop in a time machine back to 2003, which at this point might be easier than putting the scandal out of your mind) and read A Million Little Pieces for what it's intended to be: a story of a man's triumph over addiction.
Never believe what you read on the Internet. Nigerian princes won't send you any money. Will Smith isn't dead. And cars weren't frozen to the street when the polar vortex hit Chicago (language alert).
But the Internet isn't the only place where people lie. People have been lying since the beginning of time. ("Ungkdrah uhah." Translation: "Grok ate the last of the Mammoth roast, I swear!") Maybe we should shorten our intro to: "Never believe what you read. Period."
Fact checking is important, Shmoopers, as Oprah found out after she chose A Million Little Pieces for her book club. When the Smoking Gun exposed James Frey as a fraud, it was arguably the biggest literary scandal since we found out that Dick and Jane were adopted (don't try to find any record of that: their parents did everything they could to cover it up).
Oprah could have avoided a lot of trouble if she had looked into Frey's past first. Or if his publisher had… or if he just hadn't been full of a million little pieces of untruth in the first place…
Basically, what we're saying is, don't believe anything anyone says ever until you do your own research first. But if you have to take someone's word for it, follow our advice right here: don't pick a side in this controversy until you've read the book yourself.
A Million Little Pixels
If you can read James Frey's website, he has snippets of the book for your reading enjoyment.
Someone made a parody film of A Million Little Pieces: "This is 70 minutes and 41 seconds of pure turquoise screen. Nothing more, nothing less." Hey, it's quicker than reading the book.
Good James Hunting
Back in the day (and by "the day" we mean "period when people thought A Million Little Pieces was true"), Gus van Sant (Good Will Hunting) was interested in adapting it to the big screen.
A Million Little Lies
What's that smell? Oh, it's the Smoking Gun revealing all the fabrications in A Million Little Pieces.
The Voice of a Generation
Here's an interview from 2003. James does not dispute that the book is a "memoir," though he says he'd prefer it to be listed as "literature."
The Ego Has Landed
If you're in the mood for a little more hot air from Frey, read another 2003 article, from back when A Million Little Pieces was still too legit to quit.
Help James Help You
James Frey says he's helped thousands of people with his great work of art. Did he help you?
Stand By Your Man
Oprah originally stood by James Frey before ripping him a new one on TV.
James Frey either retains his youthful irreverence or hasn't matured a day in the last ten years. You decide. Also, James Frey talks about his stance on religion, which comes up a lot in this book. (Oh, and language alert—surprise.)
The Truth Will Set Him Frey
"I don't care much about truth," says James in this video, shocking no one.
This NPR report is from a time when Winfrey still stood by James Frey and his book even though she supports everyone's right to question the lies… er, the stories within.
Like the Difference Between Night and Frey
Fictional memoirs? True-life fiction? Where in the heck do we find these books in the bookstore when we don't know how to categorize them?
A Million Little Syllables
James Frey puts his words into another's mouth to narrate the audio version of his book.
Smile, James! You're on County Jail camera!
Looks like Frey's attitude hasn't changed much since rehab.
The Clinic (with a capital C for Importance) is actually Hazelden, which looks like this.