Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Three Cups of Controversy

Greg Mortenson's bestseller Three Cups of Tea and his charity the Central Asia Institute have had their share of controversy lately.  According to a 60 Minutes investigation on April 17, 2011, and accusations from author Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild, Into Thin Air), Mortenson's book contains substantial inaccuracies and his charity has been less than transparent.  Interestingly, Jon Krakauer has written an e-book entitled Three Cups of Deceit which, even more bizarrely, wasn't disclosed by 60 Minutes when they reported their investigation

Weird, much?

Full disclosure: I tried to read Three Cups of Tea but wasn't as enamored with it as most people.  I didn't get past the first couple of chapters.  For nonfiction, I really need a strong hook and this one didn't pull me in.  My sister Mary, on the other hand, raved about it and loved it.  I promised her that I'd reread it but haven't done that yet.  I was, however, particularly moved by all the good work that Mortenson did in building schools in Pakistan and helping to improve the plight of young girls, in particular.  However, the inconsistencies found in Mortenson's account are now being reviewed by his publisher, Viking.  Then there are the transparency problems with his sizeable charity which call his charity into question too.

I'm reminded of the situation with James Frey's A Million Little Pieces a few years back.  That happened to be a book that I read almost in one sitting.  And I was devastated to learn later that much of it was untrue.  That also may have been about the time when I started to read less nonfiction. 

Unfortunately, when things like this happen, it makes readers more skeptical whenever they pick up a book and that's disappointing because that trust is broken.  It also makes it harder, I think, for writers of nonfiction to publish their stories because publishers become more skeptical as well. 

How forgiving are you as a reader when you learn that details from a book were fabricated?  What can/should publishers do?

P.S. For those of you dropping by for the A-Z April Blogfest, my apologies for not keeping up with the alphabet postings.  There's just been too much other stuff going on (like the above).  I thank you, though, for stopping by!! You totally rock.

14 comments:

Theresa Milstein said...

I didn't read either book, but I can imagine how you'd feel. If a book is only partially true, as an author it's your responsibility to disclose it.

And I wouldn't be forgiving as a reader.

A lot of people are finding the A to Z Challenge to challenging. Doesn't bother me!

KarenG said...

I've heard of this book but not read it. Interesting post, now I want to know more about this controversy.

Jen Daiker said...

I have to say that I'm not one that reads non-fiction books but I think I'm going to give it a go this weekend just to say I did it.

That being said I would hate to find out that the facts within the story were not true. The whole reason to pick it up is to read the truth!!!

I'm glad that you shed light on this. I don't mind that you didn't relate it to the alphabet... ;)

Michael Di Gesu said...

I don't usually read non-fiction because as you have discovered, some of it is less than true. Writer's embellish... it's in their nature.

Trisha said...

It sucks when books purporting to be true turn out to be false!! Why couldn't they just make it a great fiction work and leave it at that?!?!

Heather M. Gardner said...

I'm not big on non-fiction, that's my husband's department, but I have heard of both of these works and the controversy surrounding both. I'm sure that doesn't hurt their sales. I think the publishers/agents should have done more homework on their authors before publishing. Perhaps, if they haven't already, they will have to add something to the contracts about falsifying facts. I don't think I would be very forgiving if I invested the time and money in reading their books only to find out that they didn't tell the whole truth.

J.L. Campbell said...

I haven't read any of the books by authors who have later been outed, but I've heard about them. Where the authors have fooled the buying public, I gotta say they have a lot of heart. Did they not think in today's world of open communication that somebody would find out they were lying?

Sierra Gardner said...

I enjoy reading a good memoir or non-fiction and it is definitely disappointing when authors fabricate part of their stories. It not only makes you question everything about them, but also makes you wary of other similar books that might be great. If the storyline has been 'adjusted' to make the narrative more readable, that should be disclosed up front. I've written stories based around real life events, but always as fiction since I know I have to tweak details.

Linda Leszczuk said...

I haven't read this one but I know my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter did and liked it. I'll admit I'm not as put off by the fact that some of the story may be untrue as I am by the possibility that his charity may not be everything it claimed to be.

Rachel Morgan said...

I've heard of this book but haven't read it. Not sure I will now... I would be pretty shocked (and disappointed probably) if I found out that supposed "facts" in a book weren't actually true.

Chris Phillips said...

I just don't get how you could embellish something that is fact-checkable.

Stephen Tremp said...

Hi Liz, first time visitor. I'm not very forgetful when it omes to fraud and plagerism. I'll forgive but not forget. All credibility is lost so they can find another line of work .

Liz Fichera said...

Not a huge surprise, but sales for his book have surged again because of this controversy. Controversy sells! It's #1 on Amazon, last time I checked. Oy.

Danette said...

I guess I was not surprised but the Three Cups of Tea thing. I was working at a school a few years ago and the kids were all reading 'A Child Called 'It'' I did some research then and found out how research and found out that that author had not been put under any kind of scrutiny and there was no evidence for the abuse he claimed he had experienced- yet publishers publish it without question. Same with Frey. And when I hear about the Frey thing, the excuses were essentially that they didn't have to look into "memoir", that was all very subjective. At this point I think all of us can count "memoir" as fiction. It is not researched or checked up on yet it is more frequently purchased which is a recipe for deceit in my book. Even history is often written with the political slant of the author. When I read history I always look at who is reviewing to see who they are and what they say. Good post!