In Contrast to Burroughs

And I mean Augusten, not William.

I'm too lazy to dig up the articles that were previously posted about Burroughs and his autobiographies and how some people said they were made up. Some people got agitated and grumbley about it.

Then I read this.

My favorite quote: “Any writer has the right to shape materials, and undoubtedly Steinbeck left things out. That doesn’t make the book a lie.”

Now, obviously some of the flak Burroughs got was from the people he was writing about and how "he was telling lies," but some people (and this is what I'd like to focus on) were upset because he lied in an autobiography.

Just seemed a study in contrasts at least.

Though, the quote above does make me think how much needs to change before an autobiography becomes a lie?

And can a book ever lie? (Assuming it's not for educational purposes. I hope those don't lie...too often.) I think something was said about books that 'the truth the reader takes from them is the truth that the book held.'

Or something.

(Side note: if you try to figure out the correct quote in google by searching for "the truth of a book" you won't find the answer, but you will learn that Jehovah's Witnesses have something called The Truth Book and there is a book about escaping childhood abuse among them of the same name.)


  1. Well, I would think the basic, core facts would have to not change. I'm not 100% familiar with the Burroughs complaints, but take this for what it is worth:

    Most situations are open to interpretation. Study after study shows that 3 witnesses to a crime will describe the crime and the perp differently. So, if Author X and Father Y fought, and the author attributes it to his father's alcoholism or to the fact that his father blah blah blah, as long as they fought, I think its OK. Books need "characters." Rarely do we, as humans, fit into character sketches, so of course the person being used in a book is going to "characterized" to some degree. You have to make someone the funny guy, or the mean guy, or whatever. That person may not agree with your take on them. Again, that's perspective.

    The "Million Pieces" guy, OTOH, WAS in jail, but it was for a charge different from what he claimed, and it wasn't for weeks, but like a day. That's not interpretation, that's fiction.

  2. Oh, I know that autobiographies are rarely the same as fact, which is why I find some amusement in people getting upset about Burroughs, and I think the response about Steinbeck is closer to the mark.

    However, I think what the article was saying was that Steinbeck was toeing his story being fiction since he made so much up.

    Personally, when I read autobiographies, I want to be intrigued, inspired and motivated (as well as entertained). How true it is...doesn't matter too much, unless you're trying to sell it too hard as FACT, rather than "fact".